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Ponte Vecchio: Love Goddess # 3 December 12, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

Ponte Vecchio’s transformation from kitschy chocolate box cover medieval bridge to unlikely love goddess was unexpected. But it has happened nonetheless. In the last ten years many young Tuscan couples have made the pilgrimage there to cement their love. The ritual is long and complicated. The couple in question first go to a hardware store and buy a padlock and key and an indelible pen. They then write a beguiling message on the padlock with said pen: ‘I luv Giussi, Giussi loves me’ or some other equally powerful magical graffiti. Then they head off to the bridge. On arriving they go to the statue of Cellini on the bridge. They ignore Cellini – no love god he… – instead concentrating on the iron railings around his statue or those that keep pedestrians away from the water. They then surreptitiously attach the padlock. We say ‘surreptitiously’ as the local police have recently showed their understanding of youth culture by threatening spot fines to couples who ‘deface’ a local monument by attaching the padlock. Of course, this makes the whole thing that much more exciting…  The padlock is attached and then the key is thrown into the river. Eternal bond, eternal love? Almost certainly not, but there are five thousand padlocks there and even though the council keeps sending in a man with snippers the padlocks are constantly reinforced by new arrivals.

Who made Ponte Vecchio into a love goddess, to join Beatrice and the Ely Madonna? If you ask a local they will tell you that it was a locksmith who used to live on the bridge back in the Renaissance and who cunningly encouraged visitors to run through the ritual, no doubt because he wanted to up his revenue.  This is purest cobblers as Beach can’t remember any padlocks when he first came to the bridge twenty odd years ago. Instead, the custom almost certainly came from a book Ho voglia di te that was then made into a pretty dreadful teen film of the same name involving a psycho stalker and a photographer, who proceed improbably to melt into each other.  This book (and the film makes the reference too) describes the lovers attaching a lock (actually a bicycle chain) to a bridge in Rome and the craze caught on there. Beach would guess that the Ponte Vecchio padlocks are a Tuscan reflex of the same rather charming love tryst.

To Beach’s surprise it seems that this custom has now spread around the world. Has it spread from Italy, the most popular international tourist destination, or did the author of Ho voglia di te pick it up from somewhere else? The Wikipedia page for love padlocks has many reference but none seem to date before 2000 with one exception. And we quote:

Similarly, an attribution for the bridge Most Ljubavi (lit. the Bridge of Love—now named after the love padlocks) in Serbia exists, where they can be traced to even before World War II. A local schoolmistress named Nada, who was from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other Relja went to war in Greece where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. As a consequence, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada never recovered from that devastating blow, and after some time she died as a result of her unfortunate love. As young girls from Vrnjacka Banja wanted to protect their own loves, they started writing down their names, together with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixing them to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.

Beach doesn’t have great Serbian (ahem!) but he bets that the first love lock also appeared after 2000. As to the charming story… If anyone can correct or confirm this supposition then please: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Also why bridges? Liminal places, water is feminine, brick masculine, blah blah blah…

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31 Dec 2012: James C writes in: The custom of love padlocks spread far and wide indeed. I’ve seen it in all the countries I’ve travelled to so far. Possibly the farthest it’s come is a remote island of Enoshima in Japan, where on the top of the hill in the middle of the island there is a “love bell” surrounded by a fence with thousands of padlocks. There’s a local legend about a romance between goddess Benten and a dragon which gives some credence to the power of love infusing the island. PJ is also oriental in outlook: So odd: not a half hour before reading your post, I was reading this article: http://bit.ly/RpOjBZ It seems the Italians got their ritual from a sacred mountain in China, Mount Hua. Couples scale this incredibly scary trail to attach their lock and throw the key off the mountain to symbolize eternal love and commitment. Ricardo, meanwhile, has a methodological approach to this:  I first seen those in the bridge in front of the Arsenal, in Venice. I would guess bridges and meeting points between two margins, for symbols, for instance. It would be interesting, and also a test to the “power of the web” to ask readers to check their padlocked bridges near by and try to ID the padlocks. What is the oldest? Where can it be found? And, generally, I would also bet that padlocked bridges have names scripted on them. either using markers or engraved. Usually these came with dates… if you get my drift. Thanks James, Ricardo and PJ!