Working as an old-fashioned lie-detector, the Mouth of Truth attracts thousands of visitors who audaciously stick their hand in its slit to challenge the legend. To make it famous was the unforgettable scene of the film “Roman Holiday” of 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 Saint Mary in Cosmedin since 1632. Its origins are however shrouded in mystery and to discover them one must go back in time to the first century B.C.: there are different interpretations to this male figure with pierced eyes, nose and mouth. Some of them say it represents the god named Ocean, an oracle or more probably a faun’s head.
What is certain is that it was used in Roman times as a manhole 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 recognizing the truth: whoever told a lie while putting their 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 whether a woman had betrayed her husband.
What made this hidden corner of the capital famous all over the world was 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 become well-known among tourists who like to be photographed as they approach their hand to its mouth… hoping for the mercy of the oracle!
And you, would you dare take the risk?