"Love locks"—small locks often engraved with names—adorn the bridges of European capitals, planted there by couples as a sign of their ever-lasting commitment to one another. The weight of that love, however, has taken a toll in Paris, where about eight feet of protective fencing* on part of the Pont des Arts bridge collapsed this week, AFP reports. Authorities quickly closed the bridge, the entire 500-foot length of which is currently covered in the locks.
Rumor has it that the love lock tradition began a century ago in Serbia. The New York Times:
Their history dates back at least 100 years to a melancholy Serbian tale of World War I that recounts the love of a young schoolteacher in the spa town of Vrnjacka Banja for a soldier as he was about to go to the front. When Serbia fell, the soldier married a local woman in Greece, where he had been fighting, and never returned.
Heartbroken, the schoolteacher died, and young girls in her town who were eager to avoid a similar fate took to placing love padlocks on one of the city’s bridges. The tale was revived and popularized in the latter half of the 20th century by one of Serbia’s most famous female poets, Desanka Maksimovic, in a poem titled “Prayer for Love.”
Love locks didn't begin gaining popularity elsewhere until the early 2000s, however, when they began popping up on bridges in major cities in Italy, Russia and Germany. The phenomenon spread to Paris around 2008, the Times reports, and they've also recently crossed the ocean, to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Not everyone is happy about these visual professions of adoration and love everlasting, however. A couple of Americans recently began a petition to remove the "eyesores" from Paris' bridges, AFP says, and a handful of locks have been cut off of the Eiffel tower. Florence and Dublin have begun own removal operations, although plans to purge Cologne of love locks were stymied by public opposition.
New York City is planning a crackdown, too, citing potential structural damage to the Brooklyn Bridge and "safety hazards," the New York Daily News reports. City officials say that 5,600 locks were removed from the iconic bridge over the past 10 months alone.
*Updated to clarify which bit of the railing collapsed.