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Orecchio di Dionisio

Syracuse – The Ear of Dionysius

The Orecchio di Dionisio (or Ear of Dionysius) is an artificial cave. It is located in the ancient stone quarry known as Latomia del Paradiso. Right under the Greek Theatre of Syracuse. The cave has a curious S-shaped shape, which derives from the presence of an ancient aqueduct in the upper part. From that track, the builders dug downwards to create the current shape.

According to legend, its peculiar donkey’s ear shape made the painter Caravaggio, who arrived in Syracuse in 1608 in the company of the historian Vincenzo Mirabella, coin the expression “Ear of Dionysus”. According to tradition, in fact, the tyrant Dionysius had the cave where he locked up his prisoners dug out and, lurking inside an upper cavity, he is said to have listened to their speeches. Due to its shape, the Ear of Dionysus has considerable acoustic characteristics, amplifying sounds up to sixteen times.

According to reconstructions, Dionysius imprisoned the poet Philoxenus. This was guilty of not appreciating the tyrant’s literary works, in this place or in the nearby ‘Cave of the Cordaires’. The cave, which is also part of the Latomia del Paradiso, is so called because it was used for centuries by rope-makers who found it an ideal place because of the high humidity inside. It is a large cavern resting on thin pillars of natural stone excavated by man in very ancient times.

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