And now, after sweeping Europe, Cupid’s newest custom has arrived in Norfolk: at least 100 padlocks currently decorate the railings of the Hague Footbridge.
Here’s how it works: You and your soulmate paint your initials on a padlock, fasten it to a rail or lamppost somewhere on the bridge, and toss the key into the water. Bravo! The river of time races on, but your two hearts are now locked together for eternity.
This 21st century tradition has an unusual origin.
Its birthplace is the Ponte Milvio, which crosses the Tiber roughly 2 miles north of the Piazza del Popolo and the famous via del Corso shopping district. The bridge is over 2000 years old, but first lucchetti (Italian for padlocks) appeared less than a decade ago, inspired by a scene from the Italian teen romance novel Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You).
Ho Voglia di Te is part of a series of clichéd melodramas about badboy biker Step (short for Stefano) and his posh girlfriends. Think Grease + pizza. When author Federico Moccia shopped the first novel in this series with publishers in 1992, there was little interest, and only a small edition was printed. During the late 90s, however, it gained a wide underground following. The book became scarce, and Xeroxes circulated in Italian high schools.
By 2004, publishers acknowledged that something about Moccia’s teenage characters was striking a chord with young people. They re-issued the novel, sequels followed, and all were immediately adapted into blockbuster films. In the role of Step, actor Riccardo Scamarcio instantly became Italy’s biggest heartthrob.
Between the predictable pages of motorcycle races and tagging overpasses, Moccia’s young lovers manage to accomplish one original act: affixing a padlock to the Ponte Milvio. Real-life Roman teens imitated this fictional declaration of devotion, and the practice soon spread to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Pont des Arts in Paris, and beyond. Garlands of lucchetti now sprawl like an invasive metallic moss across prominent bridges throughout Europe, adored by romantics and despised by architectural purists.
Although translated into numerous European languages (including Polish and Catalan), Moccia’s novels are not available in English. Thus, while city officials across Europe debate the removal of thousands of “love locks” from their most picturesque bridges, this phenomenon remains rare in the United States.
But not in Norfolk! The padlocks on the Hague footbridge show that echoes of Roman romance have clearly crossed the Atlantic to our sultry shores.
So take heart, good Romeo! While anxiously awaiting a reply from your Ghent crush, go admire our local lucchetti and know that love is alive in Hampton Roads.