Hollywood and the Wonders of Rome

Trevi Fountain and the Mouth of Truth are both internationally renowned landmarks in the city of Rome. The former is inspired by the Baroque period, but was built in the 1700s as a grandiose way to be the end of a rebuilt aqueduct. The latter was built as a Roman sewer cap, but later became the source of a medieval tradition. We like to have the perception that these sights were always famous, and will continue to be. However, this is not the case. These monuments became famous during the 1950s, when a series of Hollywood films centered around Rome showcased these, sending tourists flocking to Rome. Three different films promoted these sights, each playing an important role in the sudden fame of the two sights.

Trevi fountain, or La Fontana di Trevi does not have a long history, although the source of its water does. Its water comes from an aqueduct that had been shut down, known as the Virgin Aqueduct. It had been shut for a while, before a pope during the Baroque period decided to reopen it and build a fountain to mark the finishing point of the aqueduct’s path, recruiting a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. However, it wasn’t actually built until the 1700s, designed by Nicola Salvi and finished by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762.

While the fountain was grandiose and a sight to see, it didn’t gain much international attention until the 1954 release of 3 Coins in the Fountain (Tre Soldi Nella Fontana). The film, which centers around 3 American women travelling to Rome to find love, throw coins in the fountain to make a wish, and reunite with their Italian lovers at the end of the film in front of it. Also, in 1960’s La Dolce Vita, and Italian film taking place in Rome, has a scene where Anita Ekburg takes a bath in the Trevi Fountain. While that will get you arrested if you try that now, it was fine for the time, gaining a great amount of attention internationally. These two films put the spotlight on Trevi fountain, showing off nuances of Rome that hadn’t been seen on the international level before. Now the fountain is almost always crowded with people, those who want to take photos in front of the beautiful artwork or throw a coin in and make a wish.

The same thing happened with the Mouth of Truth, or La Bocca di Verita. Once an embellished sewer cap depicting the god Ocean, it became the source of a medieval tradition which functions as a lie-detector test. Built into the exterior wall of a church, the tradition where someone placed their hand into the mouth of the cap to answer confession-type questions, where a false answer would result in the hand coming off. It was a long-standing local custom, and stayed that way until the 1953 release of Roman Holidays (Vacanze Romane), starring Audrey Hepburn. In the film, the Mouth of Truth is displayed when Gregory Peck places his hand in the mouth and fakes losing his hand to trick Audrey Hepburn. The film sent people to an otherwise normal medieval Greek catholic church, each one wanting a photo of themselves placing their hands inside the mouth of the cap. There is now a line in order to place your hand in the mouth, gaining a lot of popularity for the church, and getting them donations to continue to function and maintain their church.

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