For some they are a symbol of unbreakable love, attached forever to some of the most picturesque sites in one of the world’s most romantic cities.
But for others, Paris’s “love locks” – padlocks affixed to the railings of the Pont des Arts and other bridges spanning the Seine, usually with couples’ names and a date scrawled on them – are nothing more than a tacky eyesore.
Now, two Americans have launched an online campaign to have the padlocks removed once and for all.
An online petition launched by Lisa Taylor Huff, a writer who makes her home in Paris, and Lisa Anselmo, a French-American who splits her time between the French capital and New York, as part of their “No Love Locks” campaign has so far gathered more than 6,000 signatures.
They also have a website as well as a Facebook page with over 1,000 likes.
The locks are a “dreadful and dangerous trend,” Taylor Huff told the AFP news agency in April, one that distorts the image of “the real Paris” and turns it into something akin to “Disneyland”.
The padlocks began appearing on the Pont des Arts around 2008 and the trend quickly spread to other bridges and tourist spots. There is now barely a square inch of railing on the famous bridge without a padlock on it.
Though it is part of a global craze, Paris, as the “City of Love”, has been one of the most affected cities.
While many complain about the aesthetic impact of the locks, they have also caused safety and environmental concerns.
Paris officials have warned that the weight of the locks is weakening railings to the point where they could risk collapse and several panels have already needed replacing.
The tradition of throwing padlock keys into the Seine after attaching them to the bridges is also causing concerns over pollution.
“Love is a wonderful thing, but it is no excuse for vandalizing a city’s historic structures and public places,” say Taylor Huff and Anselmo on their campaign website.
“Our campaign urges the protection of the patrimoine (cultural heritage) of Paris as well as the protection of the Seine, an already polluted river, and a return to responsible tourism by the 32 million-plus visitors who visit Paris each year.”
The campaigners’ Facebook page has been flooded with messages of support by those who also see the love locks as something of a scourge on Paris, though some accuse Taylor Huff and Anselmo of heartlessness – a charge they deny.
“We were tourists ourselves once. We’re not heartless, celibate people with no love in our lives. It’s because we love the city,” Taylor Huff said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. “Do we want this to be the city of locks?”
Others have taken issue with the campaigners, mostly based on their nationality.
“Americans always want to have their say on everything,” said one post on the campaign’s website. Why don’t you let France worry about itself and keep your nose in your own business?”
“True, we’re both Americans, but we’re Parisians, too. And one of us also happens to be French,” replied Taylor Huff.
Another post chided, “Sorry, but [the locks are] a tradition in France, just as in Japan, Korea and elsewhere. Are we asking you to ban McDonalds and the Big Mac in the States? No. We’re not about to go to your country and ask you to change your traditions.”
“Actually, it’s not a French tradition,” Taylor replied. “Parisians haven’t asked to have their bridges and views destroyed by thousands of padlocks – it’s a tradition imported by tourists….oh, and if you want to ban McDonald’s in Paris, we agree with that, too.”