Santa Maria in Cosmedin, offering a peaceful retreat from a busy tourist attraction
Most visitors to Piazza Bocca della Verità are enticed by the so-called Mouth of Truth, an ancient drain cover anchored to a wall inside the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Mouth of Truth features a carved face with a gaping mouth. According to legend--not to mention films like Roman Holiday--a serpent awaits behind the mouth ready to devour the hand of any liar that breaches the opening.
Tourists queue inside and out of the church colonnade for a chance to snap a shot and test their luck with the legendary serpent. Few give much thought or time to the adjacent church, which is a stunning example of medieval architecture and features frescoes, polychrome floor mosaics, and even an underground archeological site (accessible to the left of the altar).
Contrasting with the crowds and traffic outside, the church is peaceful and insulated. Light filters in from the clerestory windows, bathing the interior in mellow illumination. Entrance to the church is free, but to visit the ruins of the Altar of Hercules beneath the altar, the guard asks for a small admission fee of €2-3.