“These locks have been put here by lovers,” says Juan, pointing to what I had taken to be a piece of modern sculpture. “They write their names on the lock, seal it and then throw away the key. It symbolises the permanence of their love.”
We’re in Placa del Castell in Benidorm‘s old quarter where, amongst the Mediterranean blue and white tiles and the blue cupolas of the church of San Jaime there’s what looks like an old sundial whose face has been removed and the dish filled with padlocks of varying sizes. Closer inspection reveals two names inscribed onto every padlock. Not content with filling the bowl, the locks have begun to climb the wrought iron handles either side of the dish creating chaotic circles of locks.
I’m fascinated, both by the resulting work of urban sculpture the padlocks have formed and by the origins of the practice but Juan and the rest of the group have moved on and I’m in danger of losing them. I follow after, a reluctant Alice to the White Rabbit tour, my head fit to burst with questions. Why do they do it here? When did it begin? Is there a legend of some sort? Or a spell? I’m on the trail of a story and I need to know where it leads.
I chase after, just in time to see heads begin to bob down a flight of steps where the trail of my story becomes clear. Either side of the spiral steps that lead down to the pretty little beach of Playa de Mal Pas are handrails completely hidden by locked padlocks. There must be thousands. Not one tiny centimetre of handrail is left exposed.
The group moves swiftly on, leaving me photographing the love rails and wondering what it is about Benidorm that drives lovers to commit their passion to padlocks.
Well it turns out that Benidorm is not the sole exponent of the practice. Love is locked in Rome, Serbia, Vancouver, Florence, Taiwan, Cologne, Montevideo and Venice. In fact, so prolific is the practice that authorities in Italy have allegedly been driven to forcibly remove the locks from National landmarks as the rust and weight of the love symbols is causing damage.
The rather disappointing origin to the practice of locking love and throwing the key into the nearest water apparently only dates back as far as 2006 when the Italian novelist Federico Moccia published the long awaited sequel to his novel Tre metri sopra il cielo. In Ho Voglia di te the star-crossed lovers write their names on a padlock which they attach to Rome’s Milvio Bridge and throw the key into the Tiber.
I don’t wish to belittle Signor Moccia’s work, I haven’t read the novel myself, I’m just oh so disappointed that there wasn’t a legend of lovers who once defied the Gods and locked their love on Benidorm’s shore, never to be wrought asunder until death do them part. Instead of which, it’s just a craze started by some fictional characters in a work, and I’m happy to be corrected here if I’m out of line, that I seriously doubt is going to give Jane Austen cause to worry.
It would have been so nice if true love had transcended the hedonism of a city that has recreated Xanadu in a 21st century pleasure dome where love and lust are easily interchangeable. As it is, my guess is there are far more padlocks in Benidorm than there are the couples who put them there. Ah well, they make a nice sculpture anyway.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+