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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

The first bridge of love

On pretty much every single more or less important bridge on Earth you can find them: the ever-present padlocks of love. The most famous one might be the Pont des Arts in Paris which at one point had accumulated that many couples' love promises that it was actually at risk of breaking apart. 7,500 kg of locks were added to the railing every year before the city officials decided to have them all removed in 2015. What has started as a cute trend in bigger cities has become an obligatory – some might even say intrusive – romantic tradition on pretty much every small bridge in every just as small town on the planet. However, only few people are actually aware that it was Serbia where mutual love was shown that way long before it was cool everywhere else (and even longer before it got kinda uncool again), in the small town of Vrnjačka Banja to be more exact.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

In the years leading up to World War I in the Serbian spa town of Vrnjačka Banja young schoolmistress Nada and soldier Relja fell madly in love and subsequently promised each other to get engaged. But as fate willed war came and Relja was sent to the front in Greece. And no, this is not where the story tragically ends with him falling in battle – although he did fall... namely in love with a woman from Corfu, causing him to never come back to his hometown. And Nada. The young woman, overwhelmed by the pain and sadness of her broken heart, withered slowly but surely until she eventually died unhappily. Since the young couple's love had been quite prominent in the small town her tragic fate was too. Unwilling to risk their own love and life the other women of Vrnjačka Banja decided do prevent a similar ending and came up with a seemingly pretty solid strategy. They engraved their names and the ones of their loved ones on padlocks and attached them to the railing of the bridge that used to be Nada and Relja's favorite meeting place, throwing the keys into the little river Vrnjačka below.

With this legendary tale coming about more than 100 years ago it is the earliest recorded mention of this love custom. To this day you can find completely rusty and dusty padlocks hanging below all the countless modern-day locks on the 4 m long pedestrian Bridge of Love (Ljubav Most). After a while the whole racket disappeared just as quickly as it had come into being. That is until poet Desanka Maksimović visited Vrnjačka Banja and learned about the tragic story. She eventually turned it into her poem "Prayer for love" (Molitva za ljubav), thus making the trend popular again. You're welcome world, with love, Serbia.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Prayer for love

As quickly as short-lived flower petals,

This love will also begin to crumble and perish:

the dark vortex is thirsting for oblivion.

Dear Lord, while others are praying for happiness and serenity,

I shall say: capture inside my heart, and never let go, the fleeting lock of yesterday.

Put a lid on my soul as if it was a chest of gold, turn it into a temple of love.

Alas, my soul is not seeking its own happiness - may all the joys that have ever befallen it vanish -

but it is humbly begging you that this day be saved from the looming disastrous shipwreck.

Without your help everything will wither like a poppy in the field of ripe wheat and flax

Oh dear Lord, I am not asking for happiness, for joy, for relish.

For this pain to die, that is what I fear most;

For the holy flame lit inside me to suddenly burn out into ash

For it to blaze up into passion overnight.

Desanka Maksimović

(Translation by Pedja Todić)

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