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Syracuse: Quarries

Stone quarry at Siracusa (Italy). Photo Marco Prins. Syracuse: the ancient capital of Sicily.
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The three stone quarries of Syracuse are situated to the north of the city, on the mainland, at the foot of the limestone platform. Their current name, latomia, is a Greek loan word, derived from lithos and temnos, "cut stones". The first stone cutters appear to have been active in the sixth century BCE, and work has continued for many centuries. One of the most famous quarries is the Ear of Dionysus (first photo), which is an addition to the Latomia del Paradiso, the best known of the quarries (satellite photo).

Stone quarry at Siracusa (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
The Orecchio di Dionysio or "Ear of Dionysius" is about 70 meters long and 23 meters high, and has a remarkable S-shape, which follows the course of an old waterwork. There is a remarkable echo in it, and the painter Caravaggio believed that it had been designed this way by the tyrant Dionysius, who wanted to listen to the conversation of his prisoners: hence the name. Inside the quarry, one can still see the remains of the stairs used by the quarrymen, and the holes they drilled into the walls (second photo).
The Latomia dei Cappuccini in Syracuse, where the Athenians were forced to work. Photo Jona Lendering.

The Grotta dei Cordari or Ropemaker's Grotto is the second quarry, and has been closed to the public since 1984. The Latomia dei Cappuccini is the third one, and the one that is situated most easterly (satellite photo). It is famous because it is the place where seven thousand Athenians were forced to work after they had been defeated by the Syracusans (more...). In one of his Verrine orations, the Roman author Cicero praises the beauty of the quarries, and a modern visitor can easily understand this, because today, they are a park with luxuriant vegetation, which includes oleanders, prickly pear, citrus fruits, agave, acanthus, and other trees.
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© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 22 June 2008
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