Paris (AFP) - Paris, known worldwide as the city of romance, began the heart-breaking process Monday of removing hundreds of thousands of "love-locks", padlocks chained to the city's bridges by adoring couples.
Yellow-vested officials were out early Monday morning on the city's iconic Pont des Arts, wielding cutting equipment to free the padlocks while a handful of curious tourists looked on.
Loved-up visitors from around the world have for years written their names on padlocks to symbolise their passion, then tossed the key into the River Seine so that nothing could ever break the bond.
Or at least, that's what they thought.
What couples see as a harmless act of romance is for city authorities a potentially dangerous headache.
Last year police hurriedly ushered tourists off the Pont des Arts when a section of the footbridge collapsed under the weight of the locks covering the 155-metre-(509-foot-)long bridge.
Plastic panels were put up in places to deter lovebirds, and authorities launched a drive to get tourists to find other ways of expressing their passion.
But nothing stands in the way of true love, and tourists have kept piling the locks on the bridge and elsewhere, forcing authorities to take drastic measures.
One tourist, who gave his name as Yilmaz and who has a love-lock in Paris dating from 2010, said: "It's like we're removing some of Paris's heritage, heritage created by the people.
"It's people's art. That's what was beautiful about it."
- 'Capital of love' -
"We will remove nearly one million padlocks, or 45 tonnes," said city official Bruno Julliard, criticising the "ugliness" of the locks on some of Paris's most beautiful bridges.
"Paris should stay capital of love. Couples should carry on declaring their love, proposing marriage, maybe on the Pont des Arts, but... just not by using a love-lock," added Julliard.
The wire mesh panels on which the love-locks are attached will be replaced by street art before perspex panels are installed after the summer high season.
While the trend of attaching locks to the Pont des Arts began in 2008, the problem is not unique to Paris.
It is unclear where the ritual originated, but the padlocks bearing lovers' initials have spread from European capitals to as far as Marrakech and China.
The craze proved money-spinning for some enterprising Parisians who quickly set up a sideline in padlocks with extra-long fasteners, to ensure a place on the bridge.
The famous hawkers of street art along the banks of the Seine also leapt on the craze and began selling padlocks, typically for five euros ($5.50).
But not all Parisians appreciate the sentiment.
Two young Americans living in Paris gathered nearly 10,000 signatures for a petition calling for the locks to be removed.
Paris made a thoroughly 21st century bid to stop people attaching the padlocks, encouraging lovers to "say it with a selfie" and upload them to a special site with the Twitter hashtag #lovewithoutlocks.
However, the padlocks will not be simply tossed aside, stressed Julliard, adding the city was working out what to do with the tonnes of scrap metal piling up in the back of vans.
"We're thinking of various ways of recycling them," he said.