As a lie-detector from another time, the Mouth of Truth attracts thousands of visitors who audaciously stick their hand in the slit to challenge the legend. To make it famous, the unforgettable scene of the film “Roman Holiday” in 1953.
Among the countless symbols of Rome, the Mouth of Truth is an imposing marble mask of almost two metres in diameter that has been walled up in the portico of the early Christian church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin since 1632. Its origins, however, are shrouded in mystery and to know them one must go back in time to the first century B.C.: there are different interpretations to explain this male figure with pierced eyes, nose and mouth, which could represent the god Ocean, an oracle or more probably a faun’s head. What is certain is that it was used in Roman times as a manhole cover for the city’s sewage system, the Cloaca Maxima, with the effigy of a river god swallowing rainwater.
According to legend, this stone had the property of decreasing the truth: whoever would have told a lie by holding his hand in the mouth of the mask would have lost it because of its terrible bite. The legends continued in medieval times when popular tradition led to the belief that in this place it could be decreed when a woman had betrayed her husband.
What makes this hidden corner of the capital famous all over the world is William Wyler’s film “Roman Holiday”, in which Gregory Peck pretends to have lost his hand in front of a clueless and equally frightened Audrey Hepburn. Since then, this place has entered the collective imagination of tourists who like to be photographed as they approach their hand to their mouth… hoping for the mercy of the oracle!