Having officially opened in July, the Butchers’ Bridge is Ljubljana’s newest bridge over the Ljubljanica River. Although the bridge looks very modern, it’s design is in fact an interpretation of a plan from nearly a century ago by the iconic Slovene architect Joze Plečnik, who transformed the city in the 1920s and 1930s. Some law prevented the exact design to be used after Plečnik’s death, but – as far as I’m concerned, the result isn’t at all shabby.
The footbridge’s surface is divided into three parts: a light gray granite runs along its middle, while two glass sections stretch along the railings on both sides, on which one can stand and look at the river flowing below (a little eerie).
On the bridge, there are several large standing statues of figures from Ancient Greek and Christian mythology, including Adam and Eve, banished from Paradise; Satyr, startled by the Serpent; and Prometheus, running and disemboweled, in punishment for having given the knowledge of fire to mankind.
Lined atop the bridge’s wide railing, there are also some smaller bronze sculptures, slightly grotesque but at the same time nice to look at, of animal skulls, shellfish and frogs. Here and there, padlocks are latched onto the beams connecting the sculptures. Initially, I was perplexed that they didn’t come up with a more subtle way of ensuring the sculptures weren’t stolen, but when I took a closer look at one of them, I noticed it was engraved: “Vesna + Tomaž,”** it read, and in fact, it was simply latched on and not actually keeping anything in place.
Then, I realized that love padlocks were clamped not only to the smaller sculptures but they also hung from the steel wires of the bridge’s railing.
This practice of latching padlocks engraved with the names of couples in love isn’t unique to the Butchers’ Bridge in Ljubljana. It’s already been done in the Hungarian town of Pécs, where lovers have been clamping padlocks to a fence in a street that links the mosque in the main square with the city’s medieval cathedral since the 1980s as a sign of commitment; in Florence, where love padlocks were latched on the railing at the center of the Ponte Vecchio; in China’s Mount Huang, where love-struck couples “lock their souls” together and throw the key over the edge of the cliff; and in downtown Moscow, where newlyweds latched padlocks onto the Luzhkov Bridge until authorities installed iron bars to prevent them. Most famously, perhaps, this is practiced in Paris, where almost 2,000 cadenas d’amour adorn the railings of the Pont des Arts Bridge and the Passerelle Léopold-Senghor over the Seine. Better than tattooing messages of undying love on your arm, I suppose.
Despite the cheesiness potential, I thought the padlocks on the Butcher’s Bridge were rather charming. Since they haven’t yet had time to get rusty, I found their shimmering brass blended quite well with the bronze sculptures, and created a cool combination of intentional art with a more incidental, and unpredictable, participation by the public. And since Ljubljana is no Paris, these declarations of love didn’t seem overwhelmingly tacky.
Plus, I rather like the contrast between the implied brutality of the bridge’s name and the romantic notion of the padlocks. Another instance, in which the word ‘butcher’ for me is divorced from its original meaning and stands for something light-hearted instead.
* In another case of the same word having a different meaning in two Slavic languages (is there a term for that?): ljubezen in Slovene means ‘love’ (noun); in Bulgarian, it means ‘polite’, ‘courteous’, ‘amiable’ (adjective).
**Thanks to Tomaž for the impromptu tour of Ljubljana and for only half-heartedly denying he is the one from the padlock inscription.