Test your honesty at the world’s oldest lie detector.
A visit to the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità) offers one of the Eternal City’s most fun photo ops – as long as you’re not a liar. Take a break from visiting the more serious Roman attractions to pose with this open-mouthed marvel.
- Pose for a photo with the Mouth of Truth and stick your hand inside its mouth if you dare. Liars beware.
- Learn about the myths and legends surrounding this peculiar marble mask.
- Enter the adjoining church and pay a visit to Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love.
Tickets & Prices
You can get an obstructed view of the Mouth of Truth through the metal bars of the portico arches, but to get a decent photo and stick your hand in its mouth, you’ll have to pay a small entrance donation that also grants you access to the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church and its crypt. The funds raised go to renovating the church.
There’s usually a line to see the mask, so get there early to beat the queue. Once you reach the end of the line, you’ll have a clear view of the giant face in front of you, and you’ll have the opportunity to pose and take pictures. There is an attendant there as well who can help you with the picture taking.
What to See and Do
There is a lot of speculation as to what the Mouth of Truth was originally intended as before it became a lie detector and tourist attraction, and the artifact is shrouded in mysteries and legends.
Here’s what you should see and know before you go.
The Origins of the Mouth of Truth
Historians have many theories as to why this ancient artifact was created, and no one can agree on its original purpose. Some think that it used to belong to a fountain or that it was a ceremonial well cover.
Others speculate that it might have been used as a drain cover at the nearby Temple of Hercules Victor. Another more macabre idea is that it was used by merchants to drain cattle blood in ceremonial sacrifices to the god Hercules.
We may never know the truth.
The Myths Behind the Mask
According to legend, anyone who lies and puts their hand inside the mouth of the mask will get it bitten off! The story is said to originate during the Medieval Ages when the giant disk was used as a kind of lie detector.
Trials would take place in which the accused was forced to put their hand inside the gaping mouth. On the other side, hidden from view, was an executioner. If they were thought to be guilty of lying, the executioner would chop off their hand.
Another myth, possibly from Roman times, tells the story of a noblewoman accused of adultery. Her husband, who doubted his wife’s fidelity, took her to the Mouth of Truth to test her honesty. Once there, the clever woman pretended to faint and fell right into the arms of her lover, who kissed her.
She pretended she didn’t know him and accused him of being a madman. As the crowd chased him away, she put her hand inside the mouth and declared that she had only ever been kissed by her husband and now by the madman, therefore technically not lying. The Mouth of Truth spared her, and her husband believed her.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church
With its gorgeous Cosmatesque floors, Romanesque campanile, and Gothic Baldacchino, this beautiful medieval church is worth a visit in its own right, even without the draw of the Mouth of Truth. It was given to the Greek community hence its name ‘cosmedin, the Greek word for ‘ornate’.
The church is said to contain the severed head of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love, who was killed on February 14th in the year 270. Make sure you also check out the 8th-century crypt below, built to store relics from the Roman catacombs.
The Mouth of Truth is located inside the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and is very easy to get to from all over Rome. It’s within walking distance of some other major sites, such as the Circus Maximus (5 min.), Palatine Hill (15 min.), and the Roman Forum (13 min.).
- Address: Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18
- Metro: Line B – Circo Massimo (10 min.)
- Bus: Lines 44, 95, 160, 170, 716, or 781 all stop on or near the piazza.
Did You Know That: 3 Interesting Facts
- The Mouth of Truth was made famous on an international scale thanks to its use as a plot device in the Hollywood classic Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
- The mask has a diameter of about 1.79 meters (5 feet 9 inches) and weighs nearly 1300 kilograms (2900 pounds).
- Most historians think that the mask is a depiction of the titan god of the sea Oceanus, but some disagree and say it represents Faunus, god of the forests. Are those horns or crab claws above his head?
Not much is known about the long history of the Mouth of Truth, but historians are pretty confident that it has never strayed very far from the area it’s located in now.
- The Mouth of Truth is thought to be over 2000 years old, created sometime around the 1st century CE.
- We do know that during the 13th century, it was taken out of whatever its previous location was (possibly the Temple of Hercules Victor) and placed in the Piazza della Bocca della Verità.
- During this time, if you believe the legends, it was used as a lie detector in Medieval trials.
- A few centuries later, in 1632, it was moved again to its current location, the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church.
- Today, it continues to attract people daring enough to test the legend, making it a popular tourist attraction.
Address: Mouth of Truth, Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18, 00186 Roma, Italy · view larger map