Kathleen Lewis

Piazza della Bocca della Verità: Everything You Need to Know

Unveil the myths and monuments of Piazza della Bocca della Verità, a symbol of Roman lore.

The ancient Mouth of Truth sculpture in Rome


Have you ever wondered what secrets lie behind the ancient stone mask of the Mouth of Truth? Do you dare to put your hand inside its gaping mouth and test your honesty? If you are looking for a place that combines history, mystery and legend, then you should visit the Piazza della Bocca della Verità in Rome, Italy. This square, located in the rione Ripa, is home to some of the oldest and most fascinating monuments of the Eternal City.

Historical Context

The Piazza della Bocca della Verità was once part of the Forum Boarium, the cattle market of ancient Rome. Here, merchants and farmers traded livestock, meat, cheese and other goods. The area was also a religious center, where several temples were dedicated to various deities related to commerce, agriculture and river navigation. Some of these temples still stand today, such as the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Temple of Portunus, both dating back to the 2nd century BC. These are among the best preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture, with their circular and rectangular shapes, marble columns and rich decorations.

The most famous attraction of the square, however, is the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), a marble mask that stands against the left wall of the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The mask, which weighs about 1300 kg and probably depicts the face of the sea god Oceanus, has a mysterious origin and function. Some historians believe that it was used as a drain cover in the nearby Temple of Hercules Victor, which had a hole in its roof to let rainwater in. Others suggest that it was used to drain the blood of cattle sacrificed to Hercules in the temple. In any case, the mask was moved to its current location in the 17th century, where it became the subject of a medieval legend.

According to this legend, the Mouth of Truth had the power to bite off the hand of any liar who placed their hand in its mouth. This was a way to test the honesty of people, especially spouses who were suspected of infidelity. The legend was popularized by the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, who visited the square and tried the challenge. Since then, thousands of tourists have followed their example and posed for a photo with their hand inside the mouth of the mask. Some brave ones even try to tell a lie and see what happens.

Lesser-Known Stories

The Piazza della Bocca della Verità has witnessed many events and stories throughout its history. Some of them are lesser-known but equally interesting. For example, did you know that: - The church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, built over an ancient temple of Ceres, houses a relic of St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers? The relic consists of a skull with a crown of flowers, which is displayed in a glass case in the church. - The Arcus Argentariorum (Arch of the Money-Changers), located near the church, is a fragment of an ancient arch that was erected by a guild of bankers and merchants in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus and his family in 204 AD? The arch has reliefs depicting scenes from the emperor's campaigns in Parthia and Britain. - The Arch of Janus, standing near the Temple of Portunus, is a four-sided arch that was built in the 4th century AD as a gateway to a warehouse complex? The arch has niches that once held statues of gods and emperors. It is also known as the Arch of Constantine or the Arch of Four Winds. - The Fountain of the Tritons, located in front of the two temples, was designed by Carlo Bizzaccheri and commissioned by Pope Clement XI in 1715? The fountain has an octagonal base and features two tritons supporting a shell from which water sprays. - The square was also the place where, until 1868, death sentences were executed by public beheading? The last person to be executed here was Giovanni Monti, who killed his wife and children in a fit of madness.

Intriguing Facts

The Piazza della Bocca della Verità is not only a place of history but also a place of intrigue. Here are some facts that might surprise you: - The Mouth of Truth is not the only ancient mask that can detect lies. There are other similar masks in different parts of the world, such as the Mask of Agamemnon in Greece, the Mask of Medusa in Turkey, and the Mask of Surya in India. - The Temple of Hercules Victor is not dedicated to the Greek hero Hercules but to his Roman counterpart, Heracles. The temple was originally built by the Greek colonists of Tarentum, who brought their cult of Heracles to Rome. The temple was later rededicated to Hercules by the Romans, who adopted him as their own god. - The Temple of Portunus is not dedicated to the god of ports but to the god of doors and keys. Portunus was originally a minor deity who protected the doors of houses and granaries. He was later associated with the ports and harbors, as they were also places of entry and exit. The temple was built near the river Tiber, where boats docked and unloaded their goods. - The church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin has a crypt that contains the bones of thousands of martyrs who died during the persecutions of Christians in ancient Rome. The crypt is decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of saints and martyrs. It is also said to be haunted by ghosts and spirits. - The Fountain of the Tritons has a hidden message in its design. The tritons are symbols of water and fertility, while the shell represents the female genitalia. The fountain is therefore a celebration of life and reproduction, as well as a reminder of the connection between water and women.

Architectural Features

The Piazza della Bocca della Verità is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, with a rich history and a variety of monuments. It owes its name to the famous "Bocca della Verità", a marble mask that stands against the left wall of the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. According to legend, anyone who did not tell the truth by putting their hand in its mouth would have been bitten off. The mask was probably used as a drain cover in the nearby Temple of Hercules Victor, which had a round opening in the middle of the roof, similar to that of the Pantheon.

The square also contains two ancient temples from the 2nd century BC: the Temple of Hercules, wrongly identified with the Temple of Vesta, and the Temple of Portunus, the god of the river port. Both temples are well preserved and have a rectangular plan with columns on all sides. The Temple of Hercules has 20 Corinthian columns, while the Temple of Portunus has four Ionic columns on the front and back and seven on each side.

In front of the two temples stands the Fountain of the Tritons, built in 1715 by Carlo Bizzaccheri commissioned by Pope Clement XI. It has an octagonal base and represents two tritons supporting a large shell from which water flows. The fountain was also the place where death sentences were carried out until 1868.

Tips and Recommendations

If you want to visit the Piazza della Bocca della Verità, here are some tips and recommendations:


The Piazza della Bocca della Verità is a must-see attraction for anyone who loves ancient history and architecture. It offers a glimpse into the past of Rome, with its temples, fountains, and legends. It is also a fun place to test your honesty and courage with the Bocca della Verità. You will not regret visiting this square and discovering its secrets.