Taranto (Tarantino: Tarde) is a city on the Ionian coast of Apulia, in southeastern Italy. With 200,000 inhabitants it is the third-largest city of Southern Italy and the second-largest city of the region, after the capital Bari. Taranto is home of one of the most important naval bases in Italy and it boasts a thousand-year-old history, having been one of the most powerful cities of the Mediterranean during the Greek period.
Taranto was founded in 706 BC by Dorian Greek settlers, as the only Spartan colony outside of Greece (the town is still called “the Spartan city”). A legend gives the credit of the city’s foundation to Taras (Τάρας) who, according to Greek mythology, was the son of Poseidon and of the nymph Satyrion; after being saved from a shipwreck by riding a dolphin, sent to him by his father, an image visible on many ancient coins.
The city, effectively named Taras, became soon a commercial and militar power of the Ancient Greek world, as well as the most important and inhabited centre of Magna Graecia. Its golden age finished in 272 BC, with the conquest by the Romans, that chose to favor Brindisi as the main port of the Roman Empire.
The town, now called Tarentum, fell in a period of decline and it was later contested between the Lombards, the Byzantines and the Arabs, being attacked and ransacked several times. It was then conquered by the Normans, that made it the capital of the Principality of Taranto, an almost independent feudal fief of the Kingdom of Sicily (and later of Naples), from 1088 to 1465.
The city was later governed by the Monarchy of Spain (for two centuries) and by the Bourbons, that created the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. Taranto had a population of about 18,000 inhabitants, all of them living in the small island of the old town.
After the Italian unification, the city became the main base of the newly formed Italian Navy in 1866, and site of important events like the “Battle of Taranto” in 1940, with the victory of the British naval forces against the Italian ones. An enormous steel mill was built not far from the city centre, causing a controversy that lasts still today, making the town famous only for its industry.
Despite this, Taranto is not only a steel mill, but a place worth visiting with an high amount of artistic and historical treasures.