A Short Guide To Visiting The Mouth Of Truth, Rome

Known in Italian as the Bocca della Verità, according to legend the Mouth of Truth will bite off the hand of anyone who, having placed their hand inside the mouth, is caught in a lie. While we can definitely say that this really is an urban legend, we can also certainly say that the Mouth of Trust is one of the most iconic places to visit in Rome. If you care to visit and want to learn more about it, you are in the right place. I am all about legends and will share it’s history and a bunch of tips for visiting!

Check out my post The Most Iconic Landmarks In Rome.

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What Is The Mouth Of Truth?

Simply put, the Mouth of Truth is a huge marble mask set into a disk. Weighing in at 1,300 kilograms (2,800 pounds), this iconic piece of Rome’s landscape has a long history. The main thing that everybody knows about the Mouth of Truth is that its mouth, as well as eyes and nostrils, are hollow. There’s a legend that says if a liar puts their hand in the mouth, the mask will bite off their hand.

Featured in films such as Roman Holiday (1953) as a storytelling device, the Mouth of Truth has been replicated around the world, popping up in far-flung places such as Tokyo, San Francisco and the Luxembourg Garden in Paris. The original still stands today, propped up against a wall in a church in Rome. But how did it get there?

Mouth of Truth Rome

History And Legend Of The Bocca Della Verità

There are a number of different origin theories surrounding the Mask of Truth. The original purpose is still unclear.

What is clear, however, is that the mask dates back to the 1st century AD. One theory states that it was originally used as a sort of drain cover in the Temple of Hercules Victor (“Hercules the Winner”). This Roman temple still stands today in the area of the Forum Boarium, close to the River Tiber.

The Forum Boarium was a cattle market in ancient Rome. The temple itself is the earliest surviving marble building in Rome, dating to around the 2nd century BC. The mask is thought to have sat in the center of the floor in the temple. The original temple is believed to have had an oculus (much like the Pantheon). This circular hole in the roof allowed sunlight to pour in, but it also meant rain would come in. The rainwater that collected inside the temple could drain the holes in the mask.

It’s also theorized that, due to the temple’s proximity to the cattle market, merchants would sacrifice cattle at the temple, their blood draining into the mask. The mask does not depict Hercules, however, but instead is believed to represent the god Oceanus, the god of the sea in Roman mythology. Other theories suggest that it is Jupiter Ammon, a horned version of the bearded god Jupiter.

It’s long been a tourist attraction. The mask was mentioned in the 11th-century Mirabilia Urbis Romae, a Middle Ages guide to Rome for pilgrims and medieval tourists.

Of course, the mask is no longer to be found in the Temple of Hercules Victor. Instead, probably in the 15th century (1485 to be precise), it was moved to lean against the wall of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It’s around this time that the legend of the mask biting off the hand of liars seems to originate.

One story, possibly untrue, goes that the stone mask would be used in trials to detect whether someone was lying or not. Their hand would be put into the mask’s mouth, and if they lied, their hand would be cut off by someone on the other side of the mask.

In 1631, the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin underwent restorations on the orders of Pope Urban VIII. At this time, the mask was moved to its current spot inside the portico of the church.

The church itself is worth a visit. It originally dates back to the 6th century, when Byzantium and not Rome was the ruling power, and was built in what was once the Greek quarter of the city. It’s a beautiful building with an impressive Baroque tower.

Read my post The Most Famous Rome Myths And Legends.

Mouth of Truth Rome

How The Bocca Della Verità Became Famous

Although the Bocca della Verità was already a known monument in the city before Hollywood visited, its fame in modern times has everything to do with the silver screen.

It was used as a plot device in the classic film Roman Holiday.

The movie, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, is a romantic tale set in Rome. They visit the Mouth of Truth, where Peck’s character (Joe) explains it:

“The legend is that if you’re given to lying, you put your hand in there, it’ll be bitten off.”

He then puts his hand in the mouth, but suddenly tricks Hepburn’s character (Anya) that his hand has been bitten off upon removing it. Decades later, the film is still closely tied to the millennia-old mask, which still attracts a steady stream of visitors to try putting their hand in the mouth.

Read my post The Most Famous Movies About Rome.

Practical Information

Where is the Mouth of Truth?

The Mouth of Truth is located at Santa Maria in Cosmedin church. You can see the mask while the church is open, but if you want to get up close to it, then you should visit during opening hours (see below).

Specifically, you’ll find the church at Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18. The Circus Maximus and the Aventine Hill (complete with picturesque Giardino degli Aranci, which you may know of as the Orange Garden) are just a stone’s throw from here.

As you will be visiting a church, remember that modest clothing is required!

Head over to my post The Most Beautiful Churches In Rome.

How to get there

The Mouth of Truth is in easy walking distance from a number of top sights in the city. The nearest metro station is Circo Massimo (Line B), which is around a 10-minute walk from the famous mask. The nearest bus stop is Bocca della Verità (right outside the church), with a number of buses stopping here, including 44, 83, 140, 81 and 95.

Mouth of Truth Rome

Opening hours

Santa Maria in Cosmedin is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (last entry 4:50 pm) during the winter months. In the summer months, it’s open from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm (last entry 5:50 pm).

Admission fee

Like pretty much all churches in Rome, entering the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin won’t cost you anything. However, if you’d like your picture taken in front of the Mouth of Truth itself, you’ll have to make a small contribution of around €2 for the privilege.

Guided tours of Rome that go to the Mouth of Truth

Including the Mouth of Truth in your Rome itinerary is very easy, since it is centrally located and close to many other famous attractions you’ll certainly be visiting. If you like the idea of joining a guided tour, you’ll be happy to know that there are guided tours that will take you there. I have selected the best available options that can be booked online.

For a Vespa tour of Rome that also goes to the Bocca della Verità, click here.

For an off-the-beaten path tour of Rome which visits the Bocca della Verità, click here.

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