Taranto is a big city and capital of the namesake province of Taranto. Located on the coast it overlooks the Ionian Sea. It is called city of two seas as it lays on an isthmus that divides the Great Sea (Ionian Sea) from the Small Sea (an inner basin).
The city consists of three different parts: the old town situated on a low rocky island between the two seas (here is where the oldest buildings are located), it is connected to the Borgo via a bridge and to the new city via the swing bridge (Ponte Girevole). The Borgo is mainly an industrial and commercial area, the new city is a mix of streets forming the grid pattern new city center. Two canals connects the two seas running alongside the small island.
The historic origin of Taranto dates back to 706 BC when a colony of Spartans landed on the shores of the Gulf. However as the story goes, its foundation is linked to an heroic warrior named Taras (Taras was the first name of the city) who was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. While celebrating a sacrifice on the banks of a small river in honor of his father he saw a dolphin and that was the signal that in that place he would have found a new city. Even today, the emblem of the city of Taranto depicts Taras riding a dolphin.
Taranto was a major Greek colony and one of the largest city of Magna Graecia. At that time the city had more than 300 thousand inhabitants, its fertile land and the sea abundant in fish used to attract the neighboring populations. The city very soon became an economic, military and cultural power and many beautiful buildings, temples, baths and museums were built.
The Pythagorean school was also founded and great importance was given to culture and art. In 281BC Taranto began the conflict with Rome (it is said that the people of Taranto stained the robe of an ambassador from Rome while he was in a theater in the city and this was the pretext to declare war). The city fought and received help from Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, and Hannibal, but was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire with Fabio Massimo. At that point the greatest power in the Mediterranean had disappeared and Taranto became a small fishing village.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was conquered and sacked several times (like the rest of Puglia) by different civilization, including: Ostrogoths, Saracens, Lombards, Byzantines and Normans. The city became powerful again after the French Revolution. Taranto in 1860 was united to the Kingdom of Italy and the fate of the city changed rapidly: in 1887 the swing bridge, connecting the new city to the old one, was opened ; in 1889 the maritime arsenal was opened and this gave impetus to the economy of the area and turned the city into a military power.
Taranto was chosen by the French and English as military base during the two world wars. During the Second World War the city suffered an heavy bombardment (now remembered as the night of Taranto). Famous is the quote of the English Admiral Andrew Cunningham: “Taranto, and the night of November 11th – 12th, 1940, Should Be Remembered for ever as shown HAVING Once and for All That in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has ITS Most devastating weapon”.
Numerous monuments and buildings scattered around the whole area prove this long and glorious history. Suggestive are the remains of the Doric Temple or Temple of Poseidon (father of Taras, the city’s founder) in the old city. One of the most popular tourist destination in the city is the Saint Cataldo Cathedral (Irish Bishop who died in Taranto in the 7th century and Patron Saint of the city). It was built in 1071 in the heart of the old town and has undergone several renovations over the centuries showing now different styles: baroque in the facade and byzantine in the dome. The interior is divided into three naves and includes the chapel of Saint Cataldo which is made up of a massive altar (that guards the bones of the Saint) and is decorated with statues and frescoes.
The Aragonese Castle was built in 1481 on the ruins of a Norman-Swabian castle but the first construction dates back to the 916. The fortification has 4 towers, and a quadrangular courtyard. Built for defensive purposes, in 1887 it was assigned to Navy.
Numerous remains of all ancient civilizations that ruled the city are guarded in the National Museum of Taranto. Named MArTA, an acronym for Archaeological Museum of Taranto it is one of the largest and richest in Italy with its 50000 Greek and Roman archaeological remains including ceramics, mosaics, coins and above all jeweler the museum has a huge collection of earrings, necklaces, rings, tiaras and bracelets.
Finally, not to be missed is the seafront Vittorio Emanuele III overlooking the Great Sea which offers a romantic and suggestive view especially at sunset.