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."

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The Job:Te...

French Teacher for new post starting November 2014

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: the job ? We are looking for...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher Requir...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker