The new macrocyclic ligand 1,9(4,7)-diphenanthroline-3,7,11,15-tetraazacyclohexadecaphane (L) was synthesized by a 2 : 2 reaction of 1,10-phenanthroline-4,7-dialdehyde with 1,3-diaminopropane, followed by reduction with NaBH4 center dot L contains two phenanthroline groups linked together by two 1,3-diaminopropane chains in such a way that the heteroaromatic nitrogen atoms point outside the ligand cavity. The ligand structure defines two pairs of identical compartments displaying a specific ability in the binding of protons (1,3-diaminopropane) and metal ions (phenanthroline). Protonation and Zn(II) coordination were studied by means of potentiometric and spectroscopic (H-1 NMR, UV-vis, fluorescence) techniques. Both protonation and Zn(II) coordination consistently affect the fluorescence emission properties of L, giving rise to enhancement or quenching of the emission, depending on the species involved. L becomes emissive upon protonation, but the formation of the highly protonated species, in particular the fully protonated [H6L](6+), quenches the emission. The mono-and dinuclear Zn(II) complexes of the unprotonated ligand are non-emissive, like free L, while Zn(II) binding to [HL](+) activates the emission. The most interesting aspect, however, is the chelation enhancement of quenching (CHEQ) observed upon Zn(II) binding to [H2L](2+) and [H4L](4+), being among the few examples of CHEQ effect observed for Zn(II) complexes. Hydrogen bonding between a metal coordinated water molecule and a phenanthroline group seems to be responsible for the CHEQ observed for [ZnH2L](4+).