‘Truth has a thousand faces, and every face a thousand truths.’ (Anonymous)
The legend of la bocca della verità, or the mouth of truth, is well-known from the above clip from the 1953 film, Roman Holiday. It’s now one of the most popular attractions in Rome with tourists standing in line for up to an hour, to take their one permitted selfie with the inscrutable stone face.
No-one knows exactly how or when the legend started or who or what the face represents. Only that the sculpture is Ancient Roman, the legend is Medieval, and that the face was moved to its current location, in the porch of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in 1631.
People think la bocca della verità was either the opening of a fountain or a drain cover with the face representing a river or water god. Some think that it was the drain in the middle of the floor of the nearby circular temple of Hercules, which survives to this day. The temple would have had a dome with an oculus, a hole in the middle, which would let in water when it rained. This is very similar to the Pantheon where water still enters to this day.
If you are visiting la bocca della verità , you shouldn’t miss the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin itself, which hosts the skull of Saint Valentine. It was built in the 6th Century AD as the church for the Byzantine community in Rome and is today run by the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, catholics who use the Greek Orthodox liturgy.
Where to eat: If you are hungry after queuing up for your selfie with la bocca della verità, or visiting the basilica, you should try the nearby Osteria Circo, serving good-quality Roman specialities at reasonable prices.