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Ear of Dionysius

the cave - ear of dionysius in Syracuse

In the heart of Syracuse there is one of the most characteristic places in the whole region: The Ear of Dionysius. A natural spectacle comes to life taking advantage of the conformation of the territory. A limestone cave called Latomia del Paradiso immediately under the Greek Theater of the city.

Carved out in the limestone the cave is about 23 meters high, it is 5 to 11 meters wide, and is about 65 meters deep. The reason for this varied trend is given by the presence of an ancient aqueduct in the upper part of the cave. The sinuosity of the shapes of the cave left the debate on: was it only a quarry or was it used to amplify the sounds?

The origin of the name

According to legend, this place owes its name to the famous Italian painter Caravaggio. It went to the city in 1608 in the company of the historic Syracusan Vincenzo Mirabella experienced the amplification of the voice and took the name from the shape of the ear of a donkey. According to the story of Eliano, Dionysus would have locked up the poet Filosseno in the cave with the guilt of not appreciating the works of the tyrant. These are the origins of the name Ear of Dionysius.

In the complex of the Latomia of Paradise there is also another cave, that of the Cordari, so called because the weavers of rope found that ideal place because of the high rate of humidity inside.

“Mirabella, born in Syracuse and author of a history of the city, informs us that this cave, called Ear of Dionysus, was originally a quarry like the others designated by the name of Piscidina. He tells us that important prisoners were locked up during the reign of Dionysius and that the jailer, at a certain point in the tunnel, without their knowledge, could hear the talks even if they spoke in a low voice, due to the extraordinary effect of an echo produced by the shape of the cave. Once they knew their secrets, he referred them to Dionysius. This is what is said, but also the sharp shape of the cave, perhaps, has helped to give it the name of the ear from which the legend was born. Outside, at the mouth of the tunnel, it must have been a stairway that led above the cliff, where there were the buildings that completed the prison quarters, of which the cave was the secret. In this Orecchio or Piscidina, the tyrant Dionisio locked up the philosopher Filosseno, to whom he had shown so much friendship, because he had not praised his verses. ยป

Jean Houel – External view of the cave called Orecchio di Dionisio
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