In Brunico, a town nearby, there is a bridge over the Rienza river with hundreds of padlocks on its railing. We thought these had a romantic meaning: love pledges or "lost loves locked into ones heart".
The guy at the gas station had the answer: Up 2004, there was a military camp in Brunico where youngsters came for their military service. After finishing their tour of duty, it was a tradition to hook the padlock of their trunk to the railing, and throw the key into the river.
Delving a bit deeper into the "Italian padlock mysteries", revealed different connotations and other traditions:
Originally, the Italian men drawn into military service, took a lock from their home and hooked it onto a monument or a structure, as a public vow to return back home. Some say, it was a vow to return safely back to their loved one..
There is also the Roman legend that lovers will spend their lives together if they write their names on a padlock, place it on the Ponte Milvio's third lamp post and throw the key in the Tiber. (This story had a funny spin last year when Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni introduced fines for anyone leaving a padlock on a lamp post.)
In Florence thousands of young lovers attached their padlocks to the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. Back in 2006, the council set a team of metal cutters to work removing the 5,500 locks on the railings. It took them five months to finish, as new “lucchetti d’amore” accumulated too fast. Also in Florence, the city police has been told to slap a 50-euro fine on anyone who tries to attach a lock to the bridge.
But the issue is not confined to Italy:
The city council of Pecs in Hungary also seems to fight a loosing battle against lovers' padlocks. More of the same on the Szinva Terrace's railing in Miskolc (Hungary), Guam's "Two Lovers' Point", in Huang Shan (China), and Riga (Latvia), and Tokyo (Japan), and, and...
HELP: it seems that we have a worldwide padlock problem. Or is it a worldwide love problem?
Luckily, in Brunico, the padlock problem was resolved by replacing the enforced military draft service by a 100% voluntary force. Clever people, those Italians!