But here in Rome, where perhaps the only thing more exalted 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-millennium-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 Sept. 10 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.”
Inspired by novel
Although evidence of locks as talismans of love predate Moccia, few deny that the custom exploded with the publication of his novel “Ho Voglia di Te” (“I Want You”) in 2006. One of Italy’s most successful authors, with more than 10 million volumes sold, the 49-year-old 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.