Bocca della Verità

Don’t get your hand bitten off by the Mouth of Truth!

TravelCurious Tip

Don't pass by the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin: it has a fabulous Cosmatesque floor and the tallest belfry in Rome, as well as the flower-clad skull of St. Valentine.

Truth hurts

La Bocca della Verità, or the Mouth of Truth, is a Roman carving in Pavonazzo marble. An eccentric circular face, complete with wavy beard and hair and a hole behind its open mouth, it dates from around 100 BC; it may have originally been a water feature, drinking fountain or even a drain covering. The face is thought to represent a Roman god. The waved lines of its hair and the association of the sculpture with water coupled with its proximity to the Tiber lead many to believe that it is either the god Oceanus or perhaps the god of the Tiber.

The most famous aspect of this sculpture, however, is without a doubt its lie detecting abilities. Allegedly, if a person tells a lie whilst placing their hand inside the mouth of the Bocca then it will be bitten off. In the past a priest would sometimes have hidden behind the wall and smacked at the wrists of known liars. One imagines this was a very good disciplinary tool for mothers and wives with disobedient children or unfaithful husbands.

The Bocca was famously portrayed in the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, in which Peck pretends to lose his hand. There have also been many imitative sculptures of the Bocca been made for display in many other countries around the world. You will find it today in the portico of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin along the eponymous Via della Bocca della Verità, where it was placed in the 1600s. It is free to visit but you will be encouraged to make a small donation of 50c or €1 to the church. Stop by the Bocca della Verità during your stay in Rome and pop your hand in his mouth – if you dare!

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Rome
Jewish Ghetto
For over 300 years all the Jews in Rome were restricted to this small area; today it is a vibrant and fascinating district.
Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin
This Basilica dates from the Byzantine era, and is home to the Bocca della Veritá and the remains of St. Valentine.
Theatre of Marcellus
The Theatre of Marcellus was an ancient Roman arena built by the Emperor Augustus.
Temple of Hercules Victor
The unique Temple of Hercules Victor is the oldest marble building in Rome, and one of its best preserved ancient temples.
Temple of Portunus
One of the oldest and best preserved ancient Roman temples, dedicated to the god of portals and cattle.
The Garden of Oranges
A beautiful space named for its plentiful citrus trees, with fantastic views and important Dominican history.

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