It is strange how what was the manhole of a sewer, has become one of the monuments of Rome where tourists most love to be photographed.
The Mouth of Truth, in fact, is nothing more than this: a large mask in marble, depicting a head of a faun, known by all as “Bocca della Verità” (the Mouth of Truth), immured in the wall of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin from 1632. This large bearded male face in which the eyes, nose and mouth are drilled, was probably a manhole of the Cloaca Maxima, one of the largest sewers of all Rome. The sculpture dates back to the first century, it has a diameter of 1.75 m and weighs about 1300 kg. The mask is well known, this is supposed to be the object mentioned in the first Mirabilia Urbis Romae, a medieval guide for pilgrims, entrusting that the mouth has the power to formulate oracles.
How the legend of the Mouth of Truth was born?
In the Middle Ages there is a growing legend that Virgil built the Mouth of Truth to dispel the doubts on the faithfulness of husbands and wives. Folk tales relate to a young and beautiful woman, wife of a Roman patrician, who had been accused of adultery because he received visits from another man during her husband’s absence. When her husband learned of this matter, he did not allow himself to move by tears of the woman, who proclaimed her innocence, and claimed that she was undergoing the “test” of the Mouth of Truth. The day that the girl had to undergo this examination, a young man, apparently unknown, approached and kissed her. Those present wanted to lash out at the intruder but she convinced them to let him go saying that it was a poor madman. In reality it was a sham because then when the young woman put her hand inside the mouth could sustain proudly that she had never kissed anyone other than her husband and the poor demented, which actually was his lover. The hand then remained intact with great satisfaction of her husband but with extreme humiliation of the Mouth of Truth, which gave up by such audacity, and from that day did not want to “express themselves” and not closed his mouth to punish perjurers. Precisely for this whole trail left by the countless legends pronounced and formulated on this sculpture, the Mouth of Truth continues to be mentioned among the Roman curiosity and crowds of tourists that flock to be photographed with his hand in the magic mouth, seems to preserve its charm.
The Mouth of Truth in films
The scene of the film ‘Roman Holiday’, where Gregory Peck, faced with a helpless Audrey Hepburn, pretends to have lost his hand inside the mouth, also increased the notoriety of the monument. It is said that the actress believed that the legend was true, so the scare on film is real. If it is true the legend that anyone who lies risks a bite, we can say that if the eyes are the mirror of the soul, this mask is the mirror of consciousness. Seeing is believing.
Opening hours: Mon – Sun (09.30 AM – 05.00 PM)
How to reach: bus stop Bocca Della Verità (44, 44F, 83, 170, 716, 781)
Address: Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18, 00186 Roma RM