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CULTURE

Paris takes aim at ‘love-locks’ once again

Lovers visiting Paris might be disappointed to learn that the city's 18th arrondisement recently announced plans to get rid of 'love-locks' on the Sacre Coeur hilltop, the latest action in the city's long-running battle against the practice of attaching padlocks to bridges and fences.

Paris takes aim at 'love-locks' once again
This picture taken on July 8, 2022, shows a love lock in Paris. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

First it was the famous Pont des Arts bridge in 2015, and now it is the Sacre Coeur’s hilltop. Couples visiting Paris will have to find a new way to seal their love because the city is slowly doing away with les cadenas d’amour (love padlocks).

Most recently, Paris’ 18th arrondisement released a statement promising to remove the love-locks that have come to litter Montmartre’s fences, as part of their “Embellish your Neighbourhood” plan.

“Already, philosophically, we do not agree with needing to chain ourselves to love each other. But it also degrades the infrastructure and public space,” said the mayor’s office.

The locks (shown below) will be totally removed starting in 2023, reported Le Parisien.

Painted as one of Paris’ most romantic activities for decades, many lovebirds have made their way to the City of Light with the hopes of attaching a lock to a bridge or – in the case of Montmartre – a gate, and throwing away the key, symbolising their forever commitment to one another.

Unfortunately, these locks became a commitment for the city as well. For Paris’ bridges, the locks posed two key problems: added weight and unsightliness.

In 2014, a section of metal mesh on the Pont des Arts bridge collapsed due to the excessive weight from the love-locks. The locks added approximately 45 tonnes worth of metal to the footbridge.

On top of structural concerns, many Paris residents at the time considered the locks to be an eye sore – taking away from views of the Seine and the city’s monuments.

Petitions were launched and open letters to the mayor were addressed, until finally in 2015 the city began to remove the love-locks. 

READ MORE: Just find another way: Paris tells lovers to ditch love-locks

Nevertheless, it was difficult to dissuade tourists from attaching their locks to the bridges, so the wire mesh panels were replaced by perspex. Authorities carried out a similar transformation on the Pont de l’Archevêché.

But the tradition endured, this time making its way to the famous Sacre Coeur hilltop in Montmartre, where fences, gates and even railings host love-locks. To the chagrin of residents, street vendors around Montmartre have sought to capitalise on the locks’ popularity, hoping to sell them to tourists by shouting “Lock! Lock!” around the basilica. 

Smaller padlocks go for €3 to €5, whereas larger ones might reach €15.  

According to Karen Taïeb, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of heritage, the padlocks were already being slowly chipped away at before the announcement of the 2023 removal effort.

Occasionally, “when we see that the weight is too heavy” services from town hall will cut locks off. “It can be dangerous,” said Taïeb to Le Parisien. 

“It can lead to the destabilisation of barriers, as was the case at the Pont des Arts, but it is also an aesthetic and heritage problem. We thought it was a fad, but it has been going on for fifteen years.”

Where did the tradition come from?

Some point to legends, like the story of a Hungarian woman who lost her lover during World War I, so she went around to every bridge they visited together and attached a lock there in a way to immortalise their feelings toward one another. But it is most likely the result of a popular 2007 Italian film called “Ho Voglia di Te” (I want you). 

In the film, the protagonists preserve their unbreakable love by attaching a padlock to a lamppost at the Ponte Milvo in Rome. Then, they dramatically toss the key into the Tiber river. 

In 2008, the trend exploded in France, and Pont des Arts became the ‘love-lock’ bridge, later spreading across the city and up the hills of Sacre Coeur.

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CULTURE

What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

The Fête de l'Ours, celebrated in parts of southern France, has been added to UNESCO's world heritage list - here is what you need to know about this quirky festival involving Frenchmen in bear skins chasing young women.

What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

Baguettes are not the only French cultural phenomenon to have been added to the UNESCO “intangible world heritage” list this week.

The Fête de l’Ours – or the Bear Festival – which takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain, also made the cut. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components.

The tradition involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans. At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can “become human again,” Patrick Luis, the organiser of the festival in Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste, told Franceinfo.  

READ MORE: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears

It is a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was celebrated in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

The application for UNESCO heritage status was made alongside Andorra, where two other Bear Festivals still happen each year. There is a slight difference though – the Andorran festivals celebrate female bears specifically.

Over the years, people living in this part of France have continued the tradition, even during times of war. The festival always takes place in February, and each year about 10,000 people participate.

Meant to symbolise the rebirth of spring, the festival has some interesting facets.

READ MORE: OPINION: 24 years after I first reported on wolves in France, they are at my door in Normandy

Robert Bosch, a specialist in the Bear Festivals, told Ouest France that the “bear man comes out of the wilderness to replenish the village.” In order to do this, the idea was that the man in bear costume would impregnate the young women of the village, and once that function has been accomplished, he is “stripped of his wild attributes and allowed to become human again.”

Requesting UNESCO status

Over ten years ago, several local elected officials in the Pyrenees came up with the idea of trying to get the festival recognised status. First, they managed to register the festivals in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in France, in 2014.

Eight years later, they finally achieved the crowning moment for their region – being listed in the UNESCO “intangible world heritage list.”

For the inhabitants of the three French villages, UNESCO recognising their festival has given “a boost of life” and “a boost of importance,” one village resident told Franceinfo

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