Nestled against the wall of the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) is said to have the power to uncover liars… A must-see for all curiosity lovers visiting Rome!
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Brief history of Bocca della Verità
Dating from the 1st century AD (during the Roman Empire), the Bocca della Verità is a large marble disc (1.75 meter in diameter, 1300 kilos). The sculpture depicts a bearded male face whose eyes, mouth and nose are carved into the stone.
While it is difficult to determine its original function with precision, specialists agree that it may have been a sewer outlet, an impluvium outlet (water collection system) or a fountain.
As manholes in ancient Rome were commonly carved with the likenesses of river deities, historians speculate that the face of the Mouth of Truth could be that of the Sea Titan Oceanus.
Be that as it may, the legendary Bocca della Verità quickly went beyond its primary function to become a mysterious and magical curiosity. In the 11th century, it was even mentioned in the Mirabilia Urbis Romae, a guide to Rome written in Latin for visitors and pilgrims.
But this large marble disk took the name “Mouth of Truth” much later, in 1485. Long placed outside the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, it was moved under its porch during restorations carried out at the request of Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) in 1631.
The Legend of the Mouth of Truth
According to legend, the Bocca della Verita can cut off the hand of those who dare to utter a lie in its presence, just like a supernatural lie detector!
The story goes that the presumed liars were once forced to slip their hand into the mouth of the statue so it could cut off the hands of the culprits!
But one particularly cunning woman is said to have managed to escape the wrath of Bocca della Verità! Suspected of infidelity by her husband, she pretended to faint in front of the sculpture, and a complete stranger – in reality, her lover – caught her in his arms. She was then able to swear in all good faith that she had only ever been in the arms of two men: her husband and the man who had just saved her!
La Bocca della Verità in movies
In 1953, the Mouth of Truth appeared in the film Roman Holiday directed by William Wyler.
In the movie, attractive reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, embarks Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) on a wild Vespa adventure through the Italian capital. In a mythical scence, the reporter places his hand inside the Bocca della Verità and pretends to have it swallowed by the sculpture before bursting out laughing.
The movie made the Bocca della Verita a famous curiosity throughout the world!
Visiting the Bocca della Verita in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin
To discover the famous Roman curiosity, head for the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a stone’s throw from the Circus Maximus! La Bocca della Verità is located under the church’s portico. The most adventurous visitors can queue in front of the famous sculpture to place their hand inside its mouth… at their own peril!
While in the area, Captain Ulysses highly recommends visiting the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
Built in the 6th century on the ruins of an ancient altar dedicated to Hercules, the church is worth seeing both for its beautiful bell tower and for its medieval pavement from the ancient Saint Peter’s basilica (replaced in the 16th century by the basilica as we know it today) as well as its beautiful 8th century mosaic nestled in the sacristy.
Getting to the Musée du Quai Branly
The Mouth of Truth is situated under the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, not far from the Circus Maximus, the Baths of Caracalla, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
The nearest metro station is Circo Massimo (line B). Buses 23, 44, 81, 95, 160, 280, 628, 715 and 716 also stop near the church.
Unlimited access to public transport is included in the Omnia Card and Roma Pass.
👉 More info: Omnia Card / Roma Pass
If you can observe the Bocca della Verita from outside, you’ll have to enter the church to be able to see the sculpture from up close.
The church is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter (last entry at 4:50 p.m.) and from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer (last entry at 5:50 p.m.).
Access to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is free. But you’ll have to pay a small contribution of two euros to take your picture in front of the Bocca della Verità.
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🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide , Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card . As well as entry to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.
🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. For more information: transfers in Rome.
🚌 Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).
✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
For flights as well as trains and buses, the Captain recommends Omio.