In these hard economic times, the best business to have is the guy selling padlocks at the little cart on the Ponte Vecchio. It’s a return business that beats all others in Florence.
Locks of love, or lucchetti dell’amore, are the padlocks fixed by loving couples on to part of the Ponte Vecchio, usually to the fence around the statue of Cellini located in the center of the bridge, to symbolize their eternal love. The symbol is further enhanced by the fact that the bridge unites two sides of the city (unites/joins/attaches/holds together – get it?). The enamored twosome locks the padlock after inscribing their names or initials and/or the date on it and throws the key into the Arno so that their love is locked forever.
Some say the practice started in China where the Juyongguan, Sanbu and Badaling sections of the Great Wall (those closest to Beijing) are the most popular sections with thousands of locks of various sizes attached to the rows and rows of steel chains along the wall. (I’m not sure where they throw the key – an important part of the ritual.)
Reportedly the practice in Italy was born in Rome, when in 2006, a romantic movie based upon the novel “Ho Voglia di Te” was released. In the book a young man tries to win the heart of his true love by telling her that their love will last forever, preserved by the lock attached to Ponte Milvio and the key lost forever in the Tiber. Supposedly, the movie – not the book- started a wildly popular ritual among young Romans.
The Italian story I like the best about the lucchetti dell’amore also relates to attaching padlocks to bridges. It is said that the tradition began when young men had to leave their hometowns to do military service. They attached a lock to one of the local bridges before their departure as a promise to return home, essentially a promise to survive their enlistment.
But back to the mess of locks closing in around the venerable Benvenuto Cellini. About once every four months, a city worker with huge lock cutter arrives to denude the fence. One wonders what happens to the love of those now not so immortalized there. Do they feel a instantaneous heart pang when their lock is snipped? Do they suddenly look at each other for some unexplicable reason, realizing that their love is over/false/fading/mistaken/doomed?
The powers-that-be in Florence have called for more policing on the bridge to stop the locks, which some find unsightly and others claim are damaging historic artifacts. They hung a sign in front of poor Cellini that states in both Italian and English (why not also in Japanese, Russian, French and Spanish?) that the fine for attaching locks to the railing is 50 euros. The threat seemed to work for awhile, but love will not be denied. Also, they failed to stop the vendor on the Ponte Vecchio from selling cheap padlocks and felt-tipped pens.
I have a suggestion for that enterprising fellow: sell locks that come with two keys, but keep one key. With a little soapy water or, at most, a dab of benzine, and the shiny second key, you will be able to lure two sets of lovers to the fantasy of love everlasting, pocketing twice the price.
The Romans are working on a more high tech solution – Lucchetti dell’Amore Ponte Milvio Virtuale – virtual locks of love suitable for FaceBook – never in danger of the lock cutter.