|Location:||Siracusa, towards Ortigia.|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|17th century||Grotta dei Cordari used by rope makers.|
|1608||Michelangelo di Caravaggio visited Siracusa and also this place.|
|Image: Orecchio di Dionigi (Ear of Dionigi) map (scan by Deutschen Fotothek).|
Latomie (litos=stone, temnos=cut) is a strange place, near Siracusa, which is a historic quarry for the city of Syracuse. It was opened by the Greek settlers to get material for their temples, roads and fortifications. At this time 4.7 Mio. m² of rock were removed. There are twelve quarries arranged in a 1.5km long bow following the edge of a limestone terrace towards Ortigia.
The blocks were cut out of the rock, as it is limestone or tufa, which is rather soft when it is wet. Later it was dried in the sun and became hard. This rock contains a lot of air bubbles, similar to modern isolating construction material. In the hot Sicilian summers this was very usefull to keep the heat outside the houses.
The Latomie looks rather strange, as the workers followed the best rock qualities and thus a strange labyrinth of quarries, shelters and caves was created. But the shape of this area also changed due to erosion and the frequent earthquakes of this volcanic island. Today the quarries are much wider than originally and so the sun is shining into the crevice allowing the growth of plants.
The caves were built by slave workers, prisoners and captives of war. For example the Carthagans which were captured at Gelone 480 BC. Or the 7,000 Athenians which survived the massacre at Asinaro 413 BC. The quarries were a high security prison, with no chance for the prisoners to escape.
Today there are four quarries open to the public: Latomia Intagliatella, Latomie dei Cappuccini, Latomie del Paradiso, and Latomie di S. Venera. Two more are private and not open to the public. All other quarries are covered by the modern city and do not exist any more.
The Grotta dei Cordari really looks and feels a bit like a natural cave, as the moisture allows the growth of typical plants. It was named after the cordari (rope makers) who used this huge chamber to make ropes since the 17th century. This place was cool and moist, which was good for the ropes. The tradition of making ropes here was abandoned only a few decades ago.
The Orecchio di Dionigi (Ear of Dionysius) is a 65m long tunnel which is between 5m and 11m wide and 23m high. It is shaped like a gothic arch, with a pointy apex. The strange shape gives the place strange acoustics, the sound is reflected up to 16 times. Michelangelo di Caravaggio visited Siracusa in 1608. He visited this cave in the company of the Siracusan historian Vincenzo Mirabella. Caravaggio named this cave Orecchio di Dionigi because of an legend about the tyrant Dionysius the elder, who is said to have constructed this cave as a prison. The strange accoustics allowed the tyrant to spy his captives by sitting at a place high above where even the calmest whisper was amplified to be understandable.
But despite this nice story, the form of the cave is just a result of the technique used by the quarry workers. They started at the top and removed layer after layer at the floor of the cave slightly widening it with every layer. The accoustics is just a coincidence.