Florence tries to stamp out locks of love

Mon, 05/01/2006 - 17:13

Florence has decided to stamp out a tradition which has recently drawn thousands of young lovers to the city's famous Ponte Vecchio bridge .

Enamoured couples have been going to the bridge to attach padlocks to a bronze bust and the railings around it. The act is seen as symbolising the 'unbreakable' bonds uniting them.

The result, according to grumpy council officials, has been a proliferation of unsightly clusters of metal disfiguring the monument to Benvenuto Cellini, one of the city's most famous artistic sons.

"As well as the aesthetic problem, these locks scratch and dent the metal," Simone Siliani, the council's cultural affairs chief, complained .

He pointed out that Cellini, a famed 16th-century goldsmith and sculptor, has no obvious connections to romantic love and so there was no good reason for the tradition anyway .

Last winter the council set a team of metal cutters to work removing the 5,500 locks which had accumulated on the railings. They finished this week .

Meanwhile, city police have been told to watch over the busy tourist site and to slap a 50-euro fine on anyone who tries to attach a lock .

The work of removing the "lucchetti d'amore" took a long time because workmen were battling against a never-ending flow of loving couples who arrived in Florence and made straight for the Ponte Vecchio .

"Because new locks were being attached faster than we could take them off, we had to cordon the area off so that the artisans could work properly," Siliani said .

The barriers placed around the monument to protect it from lovers are to be removed next week. In the meantime, the droves of visiting sweethearts have been attaching their locks to these instead .

The tradition of the metallic love vows has developed a series of procedural rules over the years. For example, couples must throw the keys into the river immediately after attaching the locks .

They must also write their names on one side of the lock in felt-tipped pen, adding the date of their passage through Florence on the other side. Chains and overly large locks are frowned upon .

The tradition has been going on for about a decade but council officials say it only started to become a problem two or three years ago, when, for some reason, the number of locks started rising rapidly .

Florentines believe the lovers' tradition spread by word of mouth, first through Italy and then through Europe and beyond .

How it grew up is a mystery, although it could be connected to a nearby military barracks. During the 1960s, soldiers finishing their national service are known to have had a habit of sticking their wardrobe padlocks on the bust .

But how this tradition acquired a romantic connotation is still an unsolved puzzle .