Here in Santiago, Chile, young lovers have a curious habit of consecrating their affection by placing a padlock on the railing of a local bridge and tossing the key into the Rio Mapoche, thus supposedly insuring that their amor will endure forever.

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The Puente Racamalac in Santiago

I discovered this in January, shortly after I got here, when during one of my long walks I crossed the Puente Racamalac (also called the Puente Condell), a rainbow-shaped footbridge in the Parque Balmaceda. I was reminded of it again on Valentine’s Day, when near the end of another long walk I crossed the bridge while two TV news crews were shooting some footage, presumably for a timely feature on the love locks, which I presumably wrecked by being a stout, sweaty, middle-aged American.

What’s most interesting to me, as a social historian, is that this custom is not an ancient one, but rather very new. In fact, it seems to have arrived in Chile only in 2012, following the release of the hit, Spanish romantic drama, Tengo ganas a ti. In that movie, the main male character pledges his love to the main female character with a lock on a bridge, in this case the Pont d’en Gómez in Girona, Catalonia. Here’s the scene:

The 2012 Spanish movie Tengo ganas de ti (In English, I Want You) is based on a hit Italian movie from 2007, Ho voglia di te, which in turn was based on a 2006, best-selling romance novel of the same name by the Italian screenwriter and novelist, Frederico Moccia.

For a social historian, or a cultural anthropologist, what makes the spread of this custom so interesting and amusing is that Moccia invented the whole ritual of love locks and thrown keys from scratch when he wrote his romance.

Moccia, 44, says he just dreamed up the ritual. “I liked the idea of tying locks to love because it is more solid, tangible,” he said. The book sold 1.1 million copies, the movie version came out – and soon life began imitating art.

The original lock scene of the book and the Italian movie was the famous Ponte Milvio over the Tiber River, built in 115BC, and site of the battle that made Constantine the first Christian emperor in 312AD.

As testament to how fast things spread in the modern world, within a few months of the Italian movie appearing, the city authorities in Rome had to start cutting locks off the bridge, lest the weight of them collapse the ancient structure. A similar dynamic has played out across Europe. In Paris, a footbridge over the Seine near the Louvre, the Pont des Artes, was also recently in danger of collapsing from the weight of Moccia’s love locks. The Parisian authorities responded with bolt cutters and social media. The lovers of Paris responded by moving to the Pont de l’Archevêché near Notre Dame.

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Lovers locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris

I suspect that within the next year or so, two things will happen. First, the City of Santiago will begin to worry about weight of the accumulating candados de amor and take measures to prevent the collapse of the Puente Racamalac. And, second, the custom of love locks will begin to appear in the United States and Canada.

Curiously, Moccia’s novel has not yet been translated into English, despite doing very well in French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Russian and Chinese. However, as we’ve seen with the spread of roadside memorials, something introduced to American roads via Mexican immigrants, sentimental customs have a way of getting to the USA and spreading rapidly.

So, look for love locks on an American bridge near you, coming soon.

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2 thoughts on “Of Love Locks and Bridges and New Old Customs

  1. “within a few months of the Italian movie appearing, the city authorities in Rome had to start cutting locks off the bridge”

    I wonder how many relationships they prematurely ended by doing that?

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