Valentine’s Day in Italia. Bellisimo!
Except for the locks.
But first, the day. The roots of Valentine’s Day can be found here. Valere is Latin for “feel good” and celebrations of life and marriage can be traced back to the Roman Empire. There are three different St. Valentines listed in early martyrologies (and yes, for those of us who aren’t Catholic, that is a word). One was said to be a priest in Rome, one in the Roman Africa province, but the most enduring story is of the bishop of Interamna (modern day Terni). This St. Valentino was said to have been beheaded for defying the decree of Roman Emperors forbidding marriage- to keep soldiers focused on battle, spouses were forbidden.
Firenze and Venezia have the reputation for romance, but Verona has done much to capitalize on their prodigal children- Romeo and Giulietta. However, Terni strongly claims to be the birthplace (and final resting place) of St. Valentino. The city boasts an impressive celebration of music, art, and CHOCOLATE!
However the modern Valentine’s Day celebration, much like Halloween, has been imported from the United States. Known traditionally as “La Festa Degli Innamorati,” Italia has maintained Valentine’s Day as a celebration for lovers- no Batman Valentine’s being exchanged between children here.
One very public act of lovers in Italia is the placing of padlocks, or “lucchetti” public places- especially bridge railings- and throwing away the key. This can be traced back to a single popular book, titled “Ho voglio di te” (I want you) and a movie by the same title. As an expression of their ever-lasting love, the young lovers inscribe a padlock with the names, lock it around a lamppost and quite literally throw away the key. We have found locks in many places, from the Ponte dell’Accademia in Venezia to the gate in Guilietta’s courtyard in Verona. Recently authorities have cracked down on this practice. The locks are considered an act of vandalism and large municipal projects remove the locks in droves.
While aesthetics are vital to a sense of place in historic cities, there are safety concerns as well. In Paris, the weight of the locks on the grillework of the Pont des Arts footbridge caused a partial collapse of the railing. Attempts by French authorities to prevent the love locking habit has met with considerable resistance, much to the dismay of Parisians. This is a serious concern with historic street scapes- not just bridges but the lampposts and other popular places for these locks. The gesture may seem sweet, but I personally can think of many more meaningful (and less disgruntling) ways of expressing my affection for my sweetheart. Did I mention all the Italian CHOCOLATE?
We didn’t make it to Terni or Verona for Valentines. Instead over the weekend we hopped on the train to Venezia to get a taste of love at Carnivale. On our way to Piazza di San Marco on the vaporetto, the public transit boats, I noticed that the Ponte dell’Accademia had been de-locked. Like the latest campaign to Venetian visitors says, “Unlock your love.” Enjoying the Canal Grande without ruining the view for others, now that IS amore!
A great post and thanks for spreading the word about the harm of lovelocks! I spent a day last autumn helping the locals here in Venice to remove the locks from dozens of bridges and was amazed at the final weight of metal that we’d cut off! The Accademia bridge has now been altered so that locks can no longer be attached to its railings but its sad that the council had to go to such lengths to prevent what is in effect vandalism! I agree with you, take a photo or share some chocolates and a kiss in your favourite spot but please don’t leave a padlock!
Hopefully the alterations to the Accademia bridge will be more successful than the Pont des Arts in Paris. When padlocks were prevented then graffiti exploded. However, judging by the articles I have been reading on the studies into Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, I guess none of this is a new problem.
I guess we have been leaving our mark on things since time began, and some graffiti is close to art in my book (although I know that view is not always shared!). Personally I’d rather see people respecting their environment better all round but that may be wishful thinking so in the meantime maybe people can at least become more conscious of their responsibilities as a traveller and then maybe change will come. Its my hope! Keep up the great work Kate!
PS There’s now a fine in Venice for anyone caught leaving a padlock so beware!!