Rome breaks the bonds of love on ancient Milvian Bridge


Young love literally sealed itself to Rome's ancient Milvian Bridge. Inspired by a scene out of Italian teen literature, adolescent Romans began carving their initials onto padlocks and affixing them to the bridge's railings before tossing the key into the rushing Tiber. Thus, the Eternal City could bear witness to the boundlessness of juvenile romance.

Whether insipid or enchanting, the custom would spread from the Milvian Bridge like teen acne. Love padlocks erupted on historic bridges in Naples, Milan, Florence and Venice. As the books and films that launched the trend became a smash across Europe, so did author Federico Moccia, and the Ponts des Arts in Paris became hopelessly pockmarked with locks faster than you could say, "It's not you, it's me." They proliferated in Barcelona, Prague, London and Cologne, Germany. Since its beginnings in 2006, love-lock sightings have come in from as far away as the Brooklyn Bridge and Guam.

But here in Rome, where perhaps the only thing more exulted than love is aesthetics, young lovers would find their nemesis in the form of a stout politician named Gianni Giacomini. Convinced that the 5,000-plus locks strung up in recent years were not only sullying the beauty of the two millennia-old monument but also obscuring its place in history as the site where Constantine I defeated his rival Maxentius, the regional president of the Roman district where the bridge sits led a campaign to liberate it from the bonds of love.

Despite a last minute attempt by Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno to grant clemency to the original love locks that started the international trend, Giacomini's work crews took them down last month amid a blaze of metal cutters and TV crews. The multi-year fight over their removal is a tale not only of the uniqueness of Roman politics, but also of the politics of love in Italy.

"When I wrote the scene about a young couple that puts a padlock here, I wanted the Milvian Bridge to become a new tradition for Roman lovers, something that could be passed down through the generations," said a rheumy Moccia as he stared at the lockless sides of the Milvian Bridge. "But they dragged love into politics, and love lost."

Although evidence of locks as talismans of love predate Moccia, few deny the custom exploded with the publication of his novel, "Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You)" in 2006. The 49-year-old, one of Italy's most successful authors, with more than 10 million volumes sold, said he affixed the first lock to the Milvian Bridge two days before publishing the book. "I did not want readers who came looking for the lock placed by my characters to be disappointed," he said.

The book - Moccia's style of tortured young romance is perhaps best described as a "Twilight" saga novel without the fangs - became a hit. Soon, one lock became two, then 20, 200, then thousands. Within a year, there were so many affixed to one lamppost that it collapsed into the Tiber River.

Sensing the threat to the bridge, local officials reached an accord with young Roman lovers in 2008. They could string up padlocks, but only on newly installed gratings. Yet, as months passed, Giacomini, who became the local president of Rome's 20th District in 2008, said the folly of compromise became clear. Not only did old locks rust in the humidity, becoming ever more unsightly, but as couples broke up, a new tradition arose. Angry, brokenhearted youths would return to the bridge, now a major hangout, and scrawl vengeful graffiti about their ex-lovers.

"I cannot even repeat what they would write," Giacomini said. "It is so, so terrible."

Another thought occurred to Giacomini, which, he said, ultimately convinced him that the locks had to go. "I came to the realization that locks should not be a symbol of love," he said. "Love should be freely given and always free to leave. Love cannot be bound, and yet, that is what these locks are meant to do."

After a long and heated debate, the local council voted in December to remove the locks. But Rome's powerful mayor, Alemanno, intervened, calling Giacomini to ask for a delay. Then, without informing Giacomini, Alemanno announced a peace summit at the bridge in January, where he hoped Giacomini and Moccia, who was deeply opposed to the removal, could work things out.

Testy exchanges ensued. Making a pun on Moccia's bestselling book "Three Meters Above the Sky," Giacomini responded like so when asked by reporters where the locks should go: "Three meters under the bridge."

Ultimately, a compromise appeared to be reached. On the banks of the river, close to but not on the bridge, Giacomini proposed a Romeo and Juliet balcony with romantic lighting that could be erected to house locks old and new. But as months dragged on, Giacomini saw no movement by the city to make good on the deal. So he took matters into his hands. On the morning of Sept. 10, he donned his sash of local office and grabbed a pair of metal cutters.

"Enough is enough," he said.

Since then, a debate has simmered, from the local papers to the espresso bars of Rome. Should the story have ended with the score Giacomini 1, Love 0? It is especially jolting, many here say, because after an equally fierce debate in Paris, the French opted to keep the padlocks of love budging over the Seine on the Ponts des Arts.

"My rational side listens and agrees, but something inside me remembers the troubled teenager, the feeling of high school love," the Italian novelist Marco Lodoli wrote in La Repubblica. He continued, "I can't tell what, but something puts me with the crowd of the padlockers who are deluded by this cruel decision."

Now being kept in a "safe and secret location" in Rome, a few of the locks may soon go on temporary exhibit at a museum. The fate of the rest remains unclear.

That does not necessarily trouble the likes of Nicola Misciano, a 22-year-old economics major who affixed a padlock to the bridge with his girlfriend late last year.

"She is more upset than I am," he said during a recent evening on the bridge. "It meant a lot to her, so it did mean a lot to me. But let's face it, they were pretty ugly."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate