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Love’s locks lost in Paris

Left: June 1, 2015. Right: Jan 4, 2012. (Stephane De Sakutin, Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Hearts broke as officials removed millions of “love locks,” those iconic declarations of undying affection, from Paris’ Pont des Artes bridge this week.

But the locks aren’t as iconic as they seem — they didn’t begin showing up on the Paris bridge until the late 2000s after the trend was imported from Rome. In fact, their entire origin story is a lie.

Not just any lie, a lie between lovers. The love lock that started it all was hung on Rome’s Ponte Milvio by two fictional characters in the 2006 book (and later movie) “I Want You,” according to a 2007 New York Times article.

In the story, by Italian writer Federico Moccia, the hero makes up an ancient legend about lovers who wrap a lock and chain around one of the bridge’s lamp posts and throw the key into the Tiber.

It’s a shameless ploy to win over a potential girlfriend, but it works.

Work has begun in Paris to remove thousands of locks fixed to the side of the famed Pont des Arts bridge. The city says the locks, usually hung by couples to express eternal love, are causing long-term damage to Paris heritage sites. (Video: Reuters)

“And then?” the girl asks, according to the Times.

“We’ll never leave each other,” he responds.

There is no ancient legend — not in Moccia’s story, and not in real life. He dreamed up the whole thing, he told the Times, and was stunned when the gimmick took off.

Not that he was mad about it.

“That gesture of the lock on the bridge, of the feeling of the iron closing, it’s a promise. It’s beautiful,” he said (he is a romance novelist, after all).

To be fair, there is an older origin story for the love locks — a Serbian tale of a woman who lost her lover to World War I and then instructed her pupils to attach symbolic locks to bridges in order to avoid the same fate. But that story wasn’t turned in a movie, so it never made it out of Serbia.

It didn’t take long for the locks to make their way to Paris — the world’s most celebrated city for hopeless romantics. Couples began writing their names on locks and attaching them to the metal grilles on the Pont des Artes, overlooking the Seine. Seeing a market, hawkers began peddling padlocks to passersby — five euros for a small one, according to the Times, 10 if you need more room to express your love.

By 2010, the locks had become a fixture and within a few years, to some Parisians (infamously particular when they’re not being famously romantic), they were an eyesore.

They were also a danger: Last summer a chunk of fencing fell off the bridge under their weight, according to the Associated Press.

[The weight of love collapses part of Paris bridge]

The Paris city council announced last week that the 45 tons of locks hanging off the bridge were responsible for “long-term heritage degradation and a risk for visitors’ security” and that the grilles holding them would be removed. They’ll be replaced with decidedly unromantic plexiglass.

Bad news for millions of lovers, perhaps, but good news for the Pont des Artes bridge. Which, at age 201, has nearly two centuries on the love locks anyway.

For years, thousands of lovers attached locks to Ponts des Arts in Paris, but the weight of the locks eventually damaged the bridge. Here are just a few other sites around the world for hanging "love locks." (Video: Tom LeGro and Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)