Skip to content

May 13, 2011


The Pont des Arts and Padlock Pollution

by soundlandscapes

THE PONT DES ARTS is one of many delightful bridges in Paris.  It’s an iron-framed, wooden-floored, footbridge spanning the Seine from the Louvre to the Institut de France – a symbolic conjoining of knowledge to power.

The original Pont des Arts was built at the beginning of the nineteenth-century and comprised an iron framework with nine arches.  Over the years it suffered structural damage from a succession boats colliding into it and from aerial bombardment during two world wars.  In 1977 the bridge suffered a partial collapse after being hit by yet another barge.  This proved to be terminal and the bridge was rebuilt between 1981 and 1984 preserving the look of the original bridge but reducing the number of arches from nine to seven, presumably to give the river traffic a fighting chance of negotiating the bridge without damaging it.

Today, the Pont des Arts is a favourite with artists, photographers and of course, tourists, taking advantage of the unique view along the Seine while the working barges and pleasure boats rumble past on the river below.

The sounds on the Pont des Arts:

A relatively new feature to be found on the Pont des Arts, as well as on some other bridges in Paris, are the cadenas d’amour – the love padlocks.

Love them or hate them, there they are – love tokens locked to the bridge by couples who have thrown the keys into the river.

The Paris city authorities are not in favour.  They say the practice “poses the question of preserving heritage,” and that “in time, these padlocks will have to be removed”,  …  “the rusty locks are becoming an eyesore on one of Paris’ most photogenic monuments.”  I’m inclined to agree.

In conciliatory mood, the Paris authorities say they will only remove the padlocks from its bridges once it has come up with an “alternative solution”.

One possible solution might be to install one or several iron, tree-like structures, as has already been done in Moscow for example, where people can hang their padlocks.

The sounds under the Ponts des Arts:

The Pont des Arts is a delightful structure and, personally, I think that the cadenas d’amour add nothing to its charm. They seem to be impossible to escape from.  Even viewing the bridge from below and with the magnificent façade of the Louvre in the background these trinkets are seen to litter the bridge. But, I’m sure there are those who think the cadenas d’amour have a charm of their own – not least the people, now long gone, who left them there in the first place.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 17 2011

    An interesting microcosmic story from Paris. It does seem a bit tacky but the sentiment behind it is still really nice. Any word on what the alternate solutions might be?
    I was thinking recently about how you must know the city a lot better than the locals – your soundwalks have taken you to some places that could easily be overlooked but which really help create the human side of Paris.

    • May 17 2011

      Thanks Jay. No news yet on the alternative but I’m sure they will come up with something. I will keep you posted.

      Yes, I have come to know Paris very well and it’s become a bit of a party piece to mention some obscure corner of Paris and leave my French friends bemused. On the other hand, I have also learned a lot from them.

      As a foreigner, I suppose I approach Paris with an open mind and accept it for what it is – an interesting and fascinating city full of history and majesty sitting alongside interesting hidden nooks and crannies. I simply try to bring the city to life through its sounds – some majestic, some ordinary, some quirky and some often overlooked. It’s a fascinating journey!

  2. May 17 2011

    It seems to me that in each of this recording you’ve tried to record not only one sound but an entire soundscape. Just like when you make a photo to a landscape ( for example sunset at the sea) rather than to only one object. That’s really interesting.

    • May 17 2011

      Thanks Guido – good to hear from you again.

      Yes, you are right. In these particular recordings I wanted to try to capture the atmosphere of the whole bridge both on it and under it. The walkway of the bridge is made of wood so capturing the sound of people walking on it was important. It’s interesting to compare the sound of people walking on the bridge when recorded from above and then from below – the two sounds are quite different. The sounds of the boats travelling underneath was also important because they are a key feature of the soundscape of the bridge.

      My recordings vary. Some locations call for the wider, soundscape approach whilst others, street musicians or demonstrations for example, cry out for the ‘up close and personal’ approach.

  3. May 20 2011

    I rather like the padlocks myself… I’m a little disappointed every time they sweep the bridge and cut them off, and delighted when they come back.

    But we can agree that the sounds of the Pont des Arts are quite an attraction. The wooden planks alone give the bridge its own heartbeat.

    • May 20 2011

      Hi Omid, good to hear from you again. It’s always good to get an alternative view. Thanks. I hope all is going well with Emperor Norton.

  4. Aug 4 2011

    I am going to Paris for the first time August 7-15 with my love, celebrating our 10th anniversary. Looks like we’ll be padlockin’. And thanks for the sound file – sweet previews of coming attractions.

    • Aug 4 2011

      Thanks for your comment … and congratulations on your anniversary. I hope my blog has given you some ideas of where to go and what to see and hear on your trip. Have a great time!

  5. The padlock issue reminds me of those controversial lipstick kisses all over Oscar Wilde’s tomb, which the city of course decided to thwart by building a barrier in front of it. I guess there’s a strong human compulsion to leave your mark in some small way, which is clearly where the love locks idea was born.

    In general I’m not in favor of any public monument being defaced, but if they could manage to limit the locks to that one bridge only, I could live with it. If those locks ever started migrating over to my precious Louvre however, then we’d have a problem! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: