St Valentine's Day! Love! Wait, but who is actually this Saint Valentine? And why is he associated with love? And where do you find signs of love in modern cities? How about some of the most romantic love bridges in Europe, ha?
Valentine was a Christian priest (according to other sources, a bishop) who lived in the 3rd century AD in the Roman Empire. Which, as you might know, wasn't the best place and time for Christian people in history, as hundreds of thousands of them were persecuted by the state. Valentine was one of those and was doing his best to help and save innocent people. For that he was arrested, tortured and killed. As a result, in later centuries Valentine became a Christian martyr and is still venerated by the Church. He was buried very close to Rome, on February 14. Most of his relics are now in churches of the Eternal City (not all relics though, as some were taken to Ireland). Today, some people who seek love even pilgrimage to places where this saint is buried… yet interestingly that is not the only of his burial places and his relics are to be found in many spots around the world. In Poland alone there are at least 10 (!) places where you can find them, including a medieval Polish town of Chełmno, famous for its fully preserved city walls and a set of romantic gothic churches. You can travel there and see the relics easily from Gdańsk.
But when did Valentine become associated with love? Most likely, it was the "father of English literature" Geoffrey Chaucer who popularised and perhaps even invented some of the stories about Saint Valentine. It was the 14th century. Since then, the idea of St. Valentine Day gradually progressed into some beliefs and traditions that went beyond the Christian faith.
By the way, in the Middle Ages, St. Valentine was in particular associated with noble and chivalric "amour courtois", or courtly love. Some scholars believe that the veneration of the saint in February, the time of the "spring-is-coming" feeling when birds begin to find mates, was the reason why the name of Valentine has become synonymous with romantic lovers. On top of that St Valentine is also a patron saint of... the mentally ill.
What about "markers of love" in different cities around the world?
Putting so-called love padlocks on bridges. For some it is a lovely (in all senses) tradition full of romantic charm and art creation in itself. For others it is littering and an act of destruction of pieces of art and public property, in other words, vandalism.
You may already know the way this tradition works. If not, the algorithm is very simple: two people (in most cases, at least; it can be more, of course, because love has no boundaries) who are in love come to a bridge. They, or one of them, take(s) out a padlock engraved with their initials or containing an important infatuated message to the world. They clip the lock on to the crate and throw the key into the water. Done. That's it. Now deep love and eternal commitment shall be secured.
It is unknown where this tradition actually originated from. You may find some stories about an ancient Chinese practice of hanging padlocks on gates or chains and then throwing away the key. An extremely popular version is mediaeval Florence where local students had a tradition of putting locks on the Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio) after graduation. A heart-breaking love story from Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia, which supposedly took place during the First World War, is becoming more and more popular. Finally, there is clear evidence that in a Hungarian city Pécs hanging love padlocks on a fence was a common practice already in the 1980s.
What we do know for sure is that "love-padlocking" of bridges and some other objects has become a widespread ritual in European cities only in the 2000s. Some would claim that the true boom came with the publishing of the internationally famous book, Ho Voglia di Te (that translates rather unapologetically to “I Want You”) in 2006. The novel, written by Federico Moccia, portrays a couple doing their padlocking on the Milvian Bridge (Ponte Milvio) in Rome. Claimed popular in Italy and elsewhere it served as an inspiration for thousands. But it has already sparked huge controversies. In Florence (Italy), for instance, about 400 kg (~ 880 lbs) of metal had to be removed each year from the famous love bridge the Ponte Vecchio, until the city finally decided to impose a 50 euro fine for leaving a padlock there. Another, even more clamorous example was the Pont des Arts in Paris (France) that suffered some structural damage from a massive overweight; as a result, the city authorities removed over 700,000 locks in the whole city over just one weekend!
Some cities, like Moscow and Budapest, put special structures designed purely for love locks and have encouraged people to use these structures next to bridges as padlock-love-expressing places, but not the bridges. Which is a very smart and responsive move indeed.
Here we present you 7 nice bridges in different Walkative cities! These are not necessarily love bridges, but they all offer a nice view and a romantic atmosphere.
If you google "Berlin Love Bridge", the name of Weidendammer Brücke (Weidendammer Bridge) pops up. This is no doubt a nice bridge from the very end of the 19th century. What makes it special from the standpoint of history is that it remained intact in the Second World War, one of very few bridges in Berlin, especially in the city centre.
But our Walkative recommendation is another one - Abteibrücke zur Insel der Jugend (Abbey Bridge to the Island of Youth). Though perhaps not as famous as some other bridges in Berlin, this one and also the view from it is definitely one of the most romantic places in the centre of Berlin. Just 10 metres over the Spree River, the Abbey Bridge connects the famous Treptower Park with a tiny but cosy island. In order to get to the bridge and island you take an S-Bahn train that goes to "Treptower Park" station, then you walk about 10 minutes down a cute promenade along the Spree River, it's full of coffee-to-go, ice-cream and fast-food kiosks.
On the way, you can also enjoy the Treptower Park itself, where a remarkable and imposing Soviet war memorial is located. Then, after visiting the Island of Youth you can walk further to Plänterwald, which is a forest where you will notice an abandoned amusement park; or you can keep walking along the river and see some industrial and yachting places in Berlin. In other words, the Treptower area along the Spree is a beautiful and multifaceted place and is worth visiting in any season!
You can read more about parks and green spaces in Berlin.
Opened in September 2010, just a month before the local elections (you gotta love those coincidences!), this modern structure has become a staple of Krakow’s Instagram hunting. Placed in the location of the bridges of old that served on a crucial salt trading route the new bridge is dedicated only to pedestrians and cyclists. It was named after a monk who initiated the nearby hospital and whose memory is celebrated as a dedicated people's servant.
Stretching between two historical districts, Kazimierz and Podgórze, both famed for its bohemian atmosphere, the place is already romantic. The padlocks started popping up almost immediately after the bridge's conception and now you can find some unusual ones, like bicycle locks or… a car rim. Carefully supervised by the city guards, such attractions, billed as potentially dangerous, are usually being removed from time to time. We take this crossing on several of our tours and tell you more stories about it, for instance during our Jewish Kraków tour.
What adds to the poetic flair are the thought-provoking sculptures by Jerzy Kędziora - levitating above the bridge’s spans they truly make the place unique.
Warsaw is blessed with several imposing bridge constructions connecting the metropolis over the widening Vistula river. The most eye-catching might be the Saint Cross Bridge (Most Świętokrzyski), easily visible from Warsaw's Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy) and the promenade of Krakowskie Przedmieście - it gloriously composes itself with white and red National Stadium.
Now onto the locks - it is pretty unique to have the love bridge on a new, huge and modern-looking crossing and that is what makes Warsaw unique. Also, as the bridge is huge and very solid there seems to be no danger of any weight really bothering its construction.
Known as the city of islands and bridges (no wonder we have a great tour about those bridges and island and we boastfully claim it's the first free tour of its kind anywhere!), Wrocław is dotted with hundreds of overwater crossings. The most romantic is the one providing entry to the oldest part of the city - the Cathedral Island. Cathedral Bridge (Most Tumski) is especially blissful at night when, accompanied by several other islands and bridges, it is not only lit up by regular, but also gas lamps - the latter are ignited by no other but a true lamplighter in black coat and a top hat!
If this is not a place where you would want to ensure your luck in love, then I do no not know what is!
The bridge of bishop Jordan connects two of the oldest parts of Poznań, Śródka (pronounced, well… shrootkah) and Ostrów Tumski or Cathedral Island. A bit similar to Wrocław, Poznań once had a lot of islands, yet today, differently to its counterpart in the south-east, only this one is left.
The bridge is part of an ancient trail and there were several bridges here - the one today is a reconstruction of an early 20th century construction albeit using a span from a different old bridge. The red paint and the vicinity of two pretty and romantic places makes it a very picturesque location to close the bond of love.
Both places are actually adjacent to each other, but they could be no different! The small bridge of love is located just outside the medieval city ramparts in a curated park the staple of which is a huge sun clock dedicated to, who else, Copernicus. The river running through is small, but romantic and flows quite quickly over several cataracts.
The Piłsudski Bridge, named after the charismatic Polish statesman responsible for Poland’s independence in 1918, is an enormous construction of steel built here almost a century ago and still serving as a main crossing over Vistula in the city and region. Its several spans stretch over a distance close to a kilometre and complete the medieval waterfront of Toruń with a proper framing of its steel rails.
Named after a famous tenor singer it is one of Bydgoszcz’s many bridges over the river Brda. Kiepura made a big international career in Europe and overseas and was husband to Martha Eggerth, an actress and singer of the “The Silver Age of Operetta”. Their love lasted until his death and so will everybody’s who leave a padlock fixed to this bridge. So we like to believe!
The city’s claim to fame in the category of love, rivers and bridges is the Radunia canal. This place will easily remind you of Brugge, both in architecture and the way water is directed.
The bridge you are looking for is called the Bread Bridge (Most Chlebowy) and is accompanied by the glorious architecture of the old Great Mill and the Millers' Guild House.
Well, you can say we cheated on this one as Lviv does not boast a big river. Usually you would feel something is missing but somehow the charm of Lviv, its numerous medieval, renaissance, baroque and art nouveau monuments, cafes and youthful, cultural yet melancholic atmosphere makes you forget any “shortcomings”. Well, actually, there is a river, Poltva, but it is secretly hidden in a canal running just below the main boulevard of the city centre, the Freedom Avenue (or Prospekt Svobody). For centuries it served as a source of freshwater and waterway for goods, there were even storages along the banks and barges from as far as the Baltic sea used to bring here goods from all over the world. Yet, in the era of 19th century modernisation, the romantic 15 kilometres (!) - all of the river’s course in the city were covered and now they are part of the Lviv extensive sewage system. The system which became famous for the story of hiding Jewish survivors during the second world war, brilliantly captured in the Oscar-nominated film by Agnieszka Holland, "In Darkness." If you want to know more about the Lviv river have a look here - great English blog about all things Lviv and Galicia.
And if you are searching for romance and love it is all over Lviv and we are not even talking about the famous Masoch cafe, a place reminding us of a famous Lvivian who actually gave the name to... masochism. We rather mention the city’s numerous imaginative bars, cafes, green walkways, heck, even the churches and cemeteries with their thousands of melancholic sculptures can serve as a backdrop for a romantic walk and warm the hearts.
Let there be love!