I first saw lots of padlocks on bridges, fountains and other public property in Italy a few years ago. Since each had a boy’s name and a girl’s name written on the front, it wasn’t hard to guess that they were some sort of love token. Apparently, what the couple do is to put up their lock and throw away the key, to symbolise the idea that they will be “locked” together for ever. The young, eh?
In Florence, the city council decided that the situation on the Ponte Vecchio had got out of hand, and a team of workmen was sent to cut off the locks. The council said that as well as being an eyesore, the locks were damaging the bridge metalwork and the statue of Cellini. Initially, little progress was made, because new locks were being added faster than the workmen could clear old ones. Whether this says more about the urgency of the Italian workman or the ardour of Italian lovers I couldn’t say. Eventually, they had to put up barriers to keep people out while the locks were cut off. Lovers started covering the barriers with locks.
Looking on line for photos to illustrate what I’m talking about, I see that the custom has spread around the world, from Guam to the Great Wall of China. From the specific locations, I guess that young travellers and backpackers may be the vector of the craze.
How and where it all started isn’t clear. Some websites and news articles suggest that there once was a custom at some Italian military bases for young conscripts (conscription existed until 2004) to put the padlock from their personal locker onto some permanent location when they completed their service. (To celebrate that they’d no longer need it?) I suppose that concept might have suggested to some young soldier and his girlfriend that they might pledge their love on a lock as he was departing for home, because they’d be together again soon, and he would write, wouldn’t he?