Stories of people & places, festivities & traditions from my travels around the world

Love Lock Paradise on Seoul's Mt. Namsan

by Lucy Hornberger

Ahhh - padlocks, that most romantic of hardware. Inscribe your name and that of your loved one on the lock, attach it securely onto a fence or railing in a suitably scenic spot, then dispose of the key. Your lock will surely endure, and so will your love.
So goes the modern day tradition of love locks which in less than a decade has spread around much of the world. Despite their enormous popularity the locks are not welcomed by many city authorities, the most famous example being their banning in Paris following the partial collapse, due to the weight of locks, of the Pont des Arts. In South Korea, however, the iconic N Seoul Tower on the capital's Mount Namsan is choosing to buck this trend. The N Seoul Tower bills itself as 'a romantic island in the city' and they're not just refereeing to the scenic views - love locks are not just permitted but positively encouraged, creating what could well be the ultimate expression of this odd but clearly compelling activity.
On the extensive observation terraces around the base of the 236 metre tower, railings have been reinforced to deal with the weight, clear multilingual instructions are provided and custom made tree-shaped frames have been installed. The result is staggering - a modern day pilgrimage site for those seeking the age old goal of eternal love. The total number of locks in the area must run into six figures. And every day hundreds, if not thousands more are added, not just by Koreans, but by earnest westerners, giggling Japanese, head-scarfed Malaysians and lots and lots of Chinese.
Unlike on the ill-starred Pont des Arts where lovers arriving unprepared had to turn to dodgy itinerant sellers to procure a lock, here on Namsan you can purchase your lock at the official N Seoul store in the base of the tower. Pink padlocks - the most popular - had sold out at the time of our visit, but yellow, green or orange were still available. At 8000 Won (roughly 5) for a single lock and just 10,000 Won (6) for extra romantic his 'n' hers locks, it's both a small price to pay for the promise of everlasting love and a lucrative revenue stream for the N Seoul Tower management.
The mostly young couples who throng the place clearly find the whole love lock concept enormously fun and appealing. Personally I think it's rather daft but at least here on the observation decks the locks can't be accused of doing architectural damage. It will be interesting to see whether the fashion endures. Will locks will be being added ten years, twenty years from now? Whatever you think of love locks, the mass of locks at N Seoul Tower is a fine example of an early 21st century phenomenon that appears to have captured the global imagination.

The Namsan cable car whisks visitors up to the N Seoul Tower in a matter of minutes.

The observation decks and walkways are bedecked by love locks.

The majority of the locks are the brightly coloured 'official' ones from the N Seoul Tower shop, which come with a ready-made heart motif. Others are more utilitarian, or quirky.

Love locks don't just appeal to the young! An older couple inspect some of a dozen or so love lock 'trees' that have sprouted around the observation decks.

The 'official' N Seoul Tower love locks, on sale in the shop at the base of the tower. Note the heart shaped key handles.

Every lock is inscribed with a name and/or a message and there is a huge range of languages represented.

Article & photos posted March 27th, 2016

Text and photos copyright © 2016 Lucy Hornberger. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.


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