As a person who studied classical civilization for at least four years, my context for the Milvian Bridge is solely historical: in 312 CE, the Roman emperor Constantine defeated Maxentius after seeing a purported sign from God. This alone was my reference for a bridge in northwest Rome. In the past five years, however, the bridge has been given a new role. A story by Federico Moccia, in English entitled “I Want You,” featured a young couple who sealed their love by going to the bridge, locking a padlock to a lamppost, and throwing the key into the Tiber below. Such a romantic thing as this caught on quick, especially after the book—and its subsequent film—became popular. Not too long after, a couple lamps even broke due to the weight of the locks beleaguering them. Politicians made it an issue, and finally, the mayor and a few others managed to resolve the problem of amorous but destructive traffic: put some chains on the bridge supported by steel posts, where lovers can safely place their commitments.
Yesterday evening we went to see the locks. Probably thousands were locked together all over the steel posts, chains, some on lamp posts still. The graffiti so typical of Italy—love letters (I swear, Italians write the best graffiti)–is written all over the bridge now. Many Italian youths acknowledge that the originality of the action has passed, that it has become trite to go to the bridge and clasp a lock. Clearly it’s not so unhip, though, considering how many still grace the bridge. I share this because I went to see it, and wanted to know the tradition’s origins. These, sometimes more than the traditions themselves, fascinate me, and I was intrigued by the idea that Italy, a country so ancient, and so well known for its romanticism, could be enchanted by such a new tradition.