The 16th-century painter Caravaggio named the towering cave the Ear of Dionysius (Orecchio di Dionisio) after Dionysius I of Syracuse, a vicious Greek despot who ruled Syracuse in the fifth-century BC. The legend that it was used as a political prison or torture chamber, however, was quite probably started by Caravaggio himself. It is unclear if the cave was carved out by the ancients as a quarry or if it was formed naturally by water, but the flawless acoustics is due to the odd undulating shape, roughly equivalent to that of the human ear. The acoustic focal point is no longer accessible due to safety concerns, so visitors can’t try out the echo effect inside the cave, but the towering cavern is still an impressive sight and a highlight of the archaeological park.
Because of its vast size and long history, the Neapolis Archaeological Park and Ear of Dionysius are best explored with a guide on a walking tour from Syracuse, or a day trip from the Sicilian cities of Taormina or Catania. You can also combine a visit to the park with tours of the nearby towns of Ortigia and Noto.
Things to know before you go
- Visiting the Ear of Dionysius requires walking over uneven terrain, so wear sturdy shoes, a hat, and sunscreen.
- The cave is not accessible to wheelchairs.
- A tour of the park and cave is a must for fans of archaeology.
How to get there
The Ear of Dionysius is located inside the Neapolis Archaeological Park just outside the center of Syracuse, an easy walk from the old town or the train station.
When to get there
The outdoor archaeological park gets hot at midday in summer, so visit first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon.
Syracuse’s Archaeological Treasures
The UNESCO-listed Parco Archeologico della Neapolis will thrill archaeology buffs with its Teatro Greco dating from the fifth century BC that once held 16,000 spectators, second-century Teatro Romano that hosted gladiatorial combats, and monolithic third-century-BC sacrificial altar dedicated to Heron II where 450 oxen could be sacrificed at once.
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- Syracuse Greek Theater (Teatro Greco)
- Tecnoparco Archimede Museum (Tecnoparco Museo di Archimede)
- Ortygia (Ortigia)
- Syracuse Cathedral (Duomo di Siracusa)
- Basilica of San Salvatore (Basilica del SS. Salvatore)
- Nicolaci di Villadorata Palace (Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata)
- Church of Santa Chiara (Chiesa di Santa Chiara)
- Church of San Domenico (Chiesa di San Domenico)
- Tellaro Roman Villa (Villa Romana del Tellaro)