Taranto is an Italian town of 195.024 inhabitants, the capital of the homonymous province, in Puglia, located on the north-western end of the geological region called Salento, as well as on the eastern end of the coastal area called “Arco ionico tarantino”.
It was founded by the Spartans in the eighth century BC. with the name of Taras. The city, thanks to its strategic position in the center of the homonymous gulf, the fertility of its territory and trade, became the most important Polis of Magna Grecia and one of the most important cities in the whole ancient world, establishing itself as a flourishing cultural, economic and military center, which gave birth to intellectuals of the caliber of Archita, Aristosseno, Livio Andronico, Leonida and Eraclide of Taranto as well as to athletes whose deeds became legendary throughout the Greek world, such as Icco and the so-called Athlete of Taranto . At the height of its development, it reached hegemony over the other Greek colonies of Southern Italy and was chosen as the seat of the Italian league. It was the last Magna Graecia city to fall following the expansion of Rome, not before having engaged in the so-called pirate wars with it, a conflict that lasted 5 years. Although defeated, it continued to exercise a great cultural influence on the rest of southern Italy and on Rome itself, becoming part of the collective imagination of the time as a place characterized by opulence and huge natural beauties, celebrated by Horace and numerous other authors.
During the Norman period, it became the capital of the Principality of Taranto, which during its 377 years of history came to understand almost all of Salento.
Taranto gives its name to the species Lycosa tarantula (wolf spider), once very common in the local countryside, to which the terms tarantella and tarantism are due, as well as the word tarantula, used today to indicate the well-known spiders of the Theraphosidae family.
It is nicknamed the City of the two seas, for its peculiar position straddling the Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo. In the first, near the Cheradi Islands, in front of the city, a historical population of dolphins and other cetaceans lives and thrives; in the second, mussel farming has been practiced for centuries and on a large scale, whose products are known worldwide for their uniqueness.
The city is home to the Maritime Arsenal of the Italian Navy, Ilva, one of the largest industrial complexes in Europe for the production of steel, and the National Archaeological Museum MArTA, which is among the most important museums in Italy.
Let’s start our tour in this splendid city!
The Aragonese castle
The Aragonese castle (or Castel Sant’Angelo), with its quadrangular plan and the vast central courtyard, occupies the far corner of the island on which the ancient village of the city of Taranto stands.
The first nucleus of the castle dates back to 780, when the Byzantines began the construction of the “Rocca” to protect against attacks by the Saracens and the Republic of Venice. This first fortification consisted of tall and narrow towers, from which they fought with spears, arrows, stones, and boiling oil. In 1481 a first navigable canal was built, narrower than the current one and with irregular banks, to allow the passage of small boats and improve the defensibility of the castle. In 1486, Ferdinand I of Naples commissioned the architect and military engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini to enlarge the castle and give it its current structure, in order to replace the medieval typology of towers designed for plumbing defense. In fact, the use of cannons following the discovery of gunpowder required wide and low towers, circular in shape to cushion the impact of the cannon balls, equipped with ramps or slides that allowed the movement of the pieces from a tower to the other, as well as equipped with a large and robust parapet with specific openings for the fire mouths. The new fortification was to include seven towers, four of which joined together to form a quadrilateral, and the remaining three lined up along the moat to the Mar Piccolo. The four towers were dedicated respectively to San Cristofalo, San Lorenzo, the Flag and the Virgin Annunziata.
The first castellan, since the funds to complete the Aragonese part of the castle (the quadrilateral) were not sufficient, at first imposed the duty on fishing, subsequently enlarged the castle by joining it to the Sant’Angelo tower which was built at the expense of the Municipality. The round and massive towers of the castle were at the end 20 meters high and wide, joined together by 40 meters long curtains and with 4 orders of fire. The castle had two exits corresponding to two drawbridges. On the moat passed the Soccorso bridge, which connected the castle to the area which was then the countryside, and which today is called Borgo. On the opposite side, on the other hand, the Avanzata bridge connected the castle with the ancient village, passing the ditch dug to isolate the structure from the city.
In 1491, the triangular ravelin between the Flag tower and the San Cristofalo tower was added on the side facing the Great Sea. The castle was completed in 1492, as can be seen from the engraving of a stone plaque on the “Porta Paterna” together with the coat of arms of the Aragonese quartered with the weapon of the d’Angiò tripartite:
“King Ferdinando Aragonese, son of the divine Alfonso and grandson of the divine Ferdinando, rebuilt this castle falling from old age in a broader and more solid form, so that it could support the impetus of the bullets which is endured with maximum vigor – 1492.”.
With the Spaniards, the defenses were strengthened by widening the moat and building a new fortification with three towers.
With the arrival of the Habsburgs in 1707, the castle lost its importance as a military work becoming a hard prison, but with Napoleon Bonaparte it returned to its original function. In 1883, one of the five towers that joined the curtain wall, the one dedicated to Sant’Angelo, together with the Mater Dei, Monacella and Vasto towers of the civic wall, were demolished to make way for the current navigable canal and the swing bridge. The works were completed in 1887, the year in which the castle became a seat of the Royal Navy.
Inside the castle, you can admire the chapel of San Leonardo, rededicated in 1933 after being used over the years as a guardhouse and stable. Inside there are two slabs leaning against the walls, representing respectively a holy bishop and an armed medieval warrior. You can also note the coat of arms of Philip II of Spain. Very particular is also the one that served as a torture room, whose vault has a central hole through which the screams of the unfortunate were amplified and propagated, psychologically intimidating the other prisoners.
Cathedral of San Cataldo
The Cathedral of San Cataldo is a church in Taranto, precisely the oldest Apulian cathedral, initially dedicated to Santa Maria Maddalena then to San Cataldo bishop. It was built by the Byzantines in the second half of the 10th century, during the reconstruction works of the city commissioned by the emperor Niceforo II Foca.
In the last years of the 11th century, the Byzantine structure was remodeled and the current cathedral with a basilica plan was built. However, the old building was not completely replaced: the longitudinal arm, enlarged and lowered, incorporated the central nave with the deep apse of the Byzantine church, which remained unchanged; the altar is placed under the dome and the old nave became the transept, then cut from the side aisles, leaving visible a series of columns that decorated the ancient building.
In October 1964, Pope Paul VI elevated it to the dignity of a minor basilica.
Among the most beautiful churches in the entire region, the Cathedral Basilica has medieval origin, but it modified in the Baroque era, which houses the patron’s remains in a side chapel.
The eighteenth-century facade is a Baroque triumph, between niches of saints, angels and medallions, a prelude to the sumptuous interior of 84 meters in length, where the three naves and numerous chapels open. The floor still retains traces of the ancient mosaic decoration, while the walls are richly decorated.
The Cappellone di San Cataldo, with its frescoed dome, is preserved with the wealth of marble and stucco, while the Byzantine suggestion has preserved the cruciform crypt intact, punctuated by low columns and decorated with thirteenth-century frescoes.
The crypt, probably dating back to the Byzantine phase, has a cruciform layout.
It is divided into two naves, with low columns surmounted by slabs that act as capitals, on which the raised vaults of the late era rest. Around it there are small windows, now obstructed by external constructions.
On the walls you can see fragments of frescoes from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which once decorated the entire room. Particularly significant is the triptych depicting San Cataldo, Santa Maria Maddalena and Santa Maria Egiziaca, where you can see the overlap of images dating back to different eras.
Leaning against the eastern wall, there is a sarcophagus from the end of the thirteenth century, on which a bas-relief depicts a deceased (probably a girl) on the rise, supported by two angels. In the vault of the crypt there are the tombs of some archbishops of Taranto.
The arm facing east would have disappeared to make room for the current staircase, which leads to the small chapel of Candlemas, where on the altar you can admire a stucco bas-relief of the Florentine school of the second half of the fifteenth century, depicting the Madonna on the throne holding the Child on his lap.
National Archaeological Museum of Taranto
The National Archaeological Museum of Taranto (MArTA) is an important museum center, where, among other things, one of the largest collections of artefacts from the Magna Graecia era is exhibited, including the famous Ori di Taranto. In 2015 it had 55,186 visitors, and this number increased in 2016 to 85,351.
This Museum is among the most important in Italy; it was established in 1887 as a result of the urbanization of the area east of the Navigable Canal of Taranto with the construction of the Borgo Umbertino. This intervention caused the discovery and – unfortunately – the dispersion and destruction of many archaeological materials from the Greek and Roman city and from the adjoining necropolis. Just to protect the antiquities found, the archaeologist Luigi Viola was sent to Taranto who obtained the establishment of a museum in the former convent of the Friars Alcantarini.
Built shortly after the mid-eighteenth century, the building was enlarged and rearranged in various stages, starting in 1903, the era of reconstruction of the facades based on a design by Guglielmo Calderini, while the northern wing was designed by Carlo Ceschi and built between 1935 and 1941.
From 1998 the renovation works that led to the completion of the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto – MArTa with the preparation of the second floor of the museum (inaugurated on July 29, 2016). The exhibition itinerary, which takes into account the characteristics of the materials of the museum collection and the possibility of referring most of the finds to the excavation contexts, illustrates the history of Taranto and its territory from Prehistory to the early Middle Ages, developing diachronically from the second to the first floor: prehistoric and protohistoric period, Greek period (not to mention the issues of dynamic relations with the pre-Roman indigenous world), Roman period, late antiquity and early medieval period.
The route starts from the second floor which shows the most ancient phases of the history of the settlement in Puglia (Paleolithic and Neolithic) to reach the foundation of the Greek colony and the classical and Hellenistic city.
The National Archaeological Museum of Taranto, on the mezzanine floor, also has a collection of paintings which in 1909 flowed into the collections of the Royal Museum of Taranto for testamentary dispositions of Monsignor Giuseppe Ricciardi, bishop of Nardò, who wanted to donate them to his hometown.
In addition to a beautiful Byzantine icon and a Weeping Sorrow on zinc plate, the other eighteen paintings, all with religiously inspired subjects, are oil paintings on canvas and are framed between the 17th and 18th centuries.
Most of the other paintings are part of the Neapolitan production, with attributions to the school of Luca Giordano, Andrea Vaccaro and Francesco De Mura. The most recent paintings, the Addolorata between Saints Nicola and Barbara and the Deposition, were instead referred to an Apulian artist, Leonardo Antonio Olivieri of Martina Franca.
The National Archaeological Museum of Taranto offers visitors a varied cultural program intended for various target audiences, including visitors with disabilities. An educational room, located on the ground floor of the museum, hosts educational activities for schools, children and adults.
The “Revolving Bridge”
The bridge of San Francesco di Paola in Taranto, better known as the “revolving bridge” due to the possibility of opening up to the passage of ships, is the structure that connects the island of Borgo Antico with the peninsula of Borgo Nuovo. Inaugurated on 22 May 1887 by Admiral Ferdinando Acton, the bridge overlooks a navigable canal 400 meters long and 73 meters wide that connects the Mar Grande to the Mar Piccolo.
Made by the Italian industrial construction company (Castellammare di Stabia) by Alfredo Cottrau, based on a project by Eng. Giuseppe Messina who directed the construction works, it was originally made up of a large lowered arch in wood and metal, and divided into two arms that turned independently of each other around a vertical pin placed on a shoulder. The operation took place thanks to hydraulic turbines powered by a large tank located on the adjacent Aragonese Castle, capable of 600 cubic meters of water which in fall activated the two arms of the bridge.
The structure was subsequently modernized in the years 1957-1958, introducing an electric operation, but in fact maintaining the engineering principles of the then being established Directorate of military genius for the Navy. The project was carried out by the National Officine Officine of Savigliano, for all that concerned the mechanical parts and the electrical controls. The new bridge was inaugurated by the President of the Republic Giovanni Gronchi on March 10, 1958, and was named after San Francesco di Paola, protector of the sea people.
Attending the opening of the Swing Bridge is truly a singular sight, especially considering that it only takes place to allow the passage of large ships in the Small Sea or from this to the Great Sea.
An extraordinary opening is always planned in May for the transit of the suggestive maritime procession dedicated to the Patron Saint of Taranto, San Cataldo.
In October 1989, however, his arms unfolded in the presence of Pope John Paul II, who left a trace of his passage by boat into the hearts of all citizens present at the event.
Attending the opening of the Ponte Girevole is truly a sight. The Ponte Girevole is divided into two halves. The action of the gears separates them from each other and rotates them on one side alternately: first, the one closest to the Island is moved, then the one connected to the new village.
At the end of the maneuver, which lasts about three minutes, the two halves of the Swivel Bridge turn towards the Mar Piccolo and are wide open like the arms of a relative who welcomes you into the house. The new village is temporarily separated from the ancient village and the city breaks up like a single biscuit, all the more considering that it occurs only to allow the passage of large ships in the Small Sea or from this towards the Great Sea.
Cheradi Islands constitute a small archipelago that closes the dock of the Great Sea of Taranto to the south-west, in the homonymous gulf.
The archipelago is made up of the two islands of San Pietro and San Paolo (respectively 6.3 and 6.1 km away from the navigable channel of Taranto), which are part of the military domain; disembarkation and navigation are prohibited for the island of San Paolo, while the island of San Pietro has recently been partially open to the public; a very large beach is accessible, reachable from the city by means of the Municipal Transport Company.
At one time, a little further north, there was also the islet of San Nicolicchio, now disappeared. The surface of the island of San Pietro is 1.1587 km². The surface of the island of San Paolo is 5.865 km². The total area is 1.2174 km².
The two islands of San Pietro and San Paolo, part of the military domain, can be reached by boat service and have been open for bathing since 2004.
The stretch of sea inside the bay is characterized by a low seabed with fine sands and vast Posidonia meadows. To the south, however, it is more varied and characterized by a detrital and rocky seabed that offers shelter to fish.
With its 117 hectares, the islet of San Pietro is the largest. It has a triangular shape and has three points called Punta La Forca in the west, Punta Lo Scanno in the north and Punta Il Posto in the east. Here the jagged rocks alternate with the fine sandy beaches equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas while the thicket unfolds behind pine forest with benches and tables.
Smaller, however, is the island dedicated to San Paolo which preserves a Napoleonic military fort.
Once, near the tip of Rondinella, there was also the islet of San Nicolicchio, which today disappeared due to the expansion of the merchant port.
The island of San Pietro has a typically Mediterranean vegetation with an extensive pine forest, holm oak, oak, plane and palm trees and is overlooked by barn owls, seagulls, kingfisher, turtle doves and cormorants. In this area, moreover, there is a massive presence of algae that offer refuge to molluscs, sponges, hedgehogs, starfish and fish of various species.
Temple of Poseidon
The temple of Poseidon (or Doric Temple) is a Doric peripheral temple located in today’s Piazza Castello in the historic center of Taranto. It turns out to be the oldest temple in Magna Grecia and is the only Greek place of worship that can still be visited in the ancient village.
The temple is dated to the first quarter of the 6th century BC. It is assumed that the Doric peristalsis is due to an expansion phase following the construction of the cell as there are no constructive connections in the foundations with the oldest nucleus. The temple underwent looting as early as the post-ancient age and parts of the temple were used for the construction of other buildings. The ruins of the temple were incorporated into the church of the SS. Trinità, in the courtyard of the oratorio dei Trinitari, in the Mastronuzzi house and in the Celestini convent. In 1700 ten sections of columns were still visible, but they were removed and dispersed during the rebuilding of the convent in 1729. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the archaeologist Luigi Viola studied the remains and attributed the temple to the cult of Poseidon, but it is more likely to be related to the female deities of Artemis, Persephone or Hera. Other finds were dispersed with the subsequent demolition of the convent in 1926 and the nearby church in 1973.
The devastation and looting that has taken place over the centuries, as well as the phenomenon of reuse, has made it impossible to define the exact plan of the temple. The 2 Doric columns that remained as evidence of the ancient Magna Graecia temple, plus a base with 3 drums or drums, were made of local carparo obtained from the same acropolis, and represent the long side of the “peristasis” of the temple, whose the remains have been identified in the cloister and in the cellars of the Monastery of San Michele, which forms the background of the ruins alongside Palazzo di Città. They are each 8.47 meters high, with a diameter of 2.05 meters and a wheelbase of 3.72 meters: from the observation of the area of the “peristasis” and from the calculation of the ratio between its amplitude and the wheelbase, we supposes that the temple had the front facing the navigable canal, and that it consisted of 6 columns on the short sides and 13 on the long sides. Furthermore, both the profile of the capital and the “rocchi”, very low and superimposed without a central pivot, trace the artefacts back to the beginning of the 5th century BC.
However, the presence of a small pit near the columns, as well as the traces on the edges of the same, suggest the existence of a wooden pavement and raised belonging to a first cult building, in raw bricks and perishable material , built in the late eighth century BC from the first Spartan colonists.
The sacred area would have been definitively abandoned at the end of the third century BC, when the city was conquered by the Romans, and then returned to be used in the sixth century with silos, barns, when the population withdrew to the peninsula for defensive reasons.
In the 10th century the remains of the temple would have housed a place of Christian worship, while from the 14th century a part of the area was used for productive activities with clay settling tanks and small furnaces.
Today as then, the Temple of Poseidon attracts tourists and visitors, conveying to them the atmosphere of enchantment and magnificence that befits a large city, the capital of Magna Grecia.
Jonian Dolphin Conservation
Jonian Dolphin Conservation is a scientific research association aimed at the study of cetaceans in the Gulf of Taranto in the Northern Ionian Sea. Profound connoisseurs of the marine environment in its most disparate aspects, the members of our work group put their experiences and attitudes at the disposal of research understood in the deepest sense of the term. The goal of protecting cetaceans in the Gulf of Taranto can only be achieved by creating awareness among the population that cetaceans still exist in our sea. Such awareness can only be achieved by creating knowledge.
In addition to the study of dolphins, it specializes in the management of marine projects with a particular focus on the study of the environmental impact, it also carries out the design and management of visual and acoustic Marine Mammals Surveys with equipment and specialized personnel.
J.D.C. specializes in the management of marine projects with a particular focus on the study of the environmental impact; carries out design and management of visual and acoustic Marine Mammals Surveys with equipment and specialized personnel; he made documentaries and set up exhibition spaces for exhibitions and events on the issues of safeguarding the marine environment; it performs dolphin watching activities involving tourists and citizens on board its BOATS; it carries out, in cooperation with other bodies / institutes, research activities at sea, using nautical means equipped with depth sounder, multiparameter probes, HD photographic video recording systems, hydrophones for bioacoustic studies; it conducts sighting and scientific research campaigns on cetaceans aimed at students of lower and upper secondary schools; it offers professional courses such as Marine Mammals Observer and Whale Watchers operators. Since 2010, the association has joined OBIS-SEAMAP, the Duke University interactive portal that collects data on cetacean sightings worldwide.
In 2013, it ranked 1st in the “Scientific research and technological innovation” section of the Sea Heritage Best Communication Campaign Award, international recognition for all subjects – public and private – who have developed projects or interventions for the enhancement, promotion and the disclosure of maritime heritage.
In 2014, it carried out dolphin watching activities involving tourists and citizens on board the monitoring station, a 40-foot catamaran designed and equipped specifically for Cetacean research activities.
It is one of the 20 national excellences chosen to represent the Puglia Region at Expo 2015.