The huge bearded face was originally carved into a giant disc of Pavonazzo marble by the Romans in the first century AD and used either as a fountain or a manhole cover. Since medieval times, legend has said that if anyone told a lie with their hand in the sculpture’s mouth, it would be bitten off. In the 17th century, the sculpture was moved into the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church, and since then it has become a popular tourist attraction, with many visitors to Rome placing their hand into the statue’s mouth and adopting an expression of mock terror for a photo. It is probably most famous for its appearance in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck use the statue to test their honesty.
The rector of Santa Maria in Cosmedin decided to introduce the charge to raise funds for a renovation of his church. The handsome medieval church was originally built in the eighth century, with it’s last major revamp taking place in the 12th century, when the seven-storey bell tower and portico were added, and an inlaid Cosmati floor was laid. A church official is on hand at all times to make sure that each tourist only takes one photo per ticket. Disabled visitors and children under ten are exempt from the charge.