PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Lovers in Paris were left feeling a little less welcome this week after the tokens of their ardor mysteriously disappeared from one of the city's most romantic spots.
For years love-struck couples have been fastening padlocks to the railings of the Pont des Arts, engraving them with their initials, adding a few sentimental words and then tossing the keys into the Seine river below to symbolize their eternal love.
The hundreds of "love locks" adorning the Napoleonic passarelle under the watchful eye of Notre Dame Cathedral came in all shapes, sizes and styles from sparkling colors to rusting clunkers all bearing witness to love.
They vanished overnight sometime before Wednesday morning.
In a bid to preserve the 19th century bridge's structure, the town hall had said it planned to dispense with romance and had ordered the locks to be removed at an unspecified time.
Officials in the "City of Love" appeared reluctant to take credit for sullying this new tradition now that it has happened.
The various municipal authorities in charge of the bridge said they had not taken the final decision for the overnight raid to remove the detritus of love when asked by Le Parisien newspaper. Parisian authorities and town cleaning services contacted by Reuters declined to comment.
LOVE NEVER ENDS
Tourists and locals were baffled as to why the authorities would want to ruin romance in a city whose reputation as a haven for lovers is a huge draw for visitors from around the world.
Passing strollers told Reuters that the locks of love may not have all have been beautiful works of art, but they had become an accepted Parisian tradition.
"There were small ones, big ones, pretty ones, ugly ones ... it's clear that it didn't obey the rules of art," said Jean-Baptiste Guilbert from Rennes in northern France. "There needs to be the same padlocks on the left and the right and that's not the case, so maybe that's why they took them off."
Another couple ambling along expressed disappointment.
"It was a bit romantic and all that. It was nice and it's a shame really," said Felix Pinquier, whose partner Alix Camus said they gave the footbridge an "artistic aspect" fitting for its name.
A few lucky locks have survived the cull. The thought of removing a distinctly antique-looking padlock bearing the inscription "Love Never Ends" next to the word "Paris" may have just been too much for the person lumbered with the task.
And in a testament to love's indomitable spirit, a few shiny new locks have already started to re-appear.
"We got married a week ago," said Brazilian newlywed Mariana, fixing her padlock to the now-bare railings. "We want to put it there to symbolize our love."
But if this week's cull is an indication of the local authority's intentions and the bridge is to face a bare future, then lovers may still have another way to show their affection.
Just a few steps from the passarelle lies a tree with the first initials of a few romantic souls carved into it.
(Writing by John Irish, editing by Paul Casciato)