History of Taranto, Italy


See Taranto guide for highlights and historic monuments

The colony of 'Taras' was founded around 705-706 B.C. (although some scholars believe it dates from even earlier, around 800 BC), when some Spartans settled here.

Taras (later Taranto) was destined to become one of the most famous cities of 'Magna Graecia' (the Greater Greece Empire).

Taras was probably already the name of the place where the settlers arrived, which was already occupied by pre-existing Italic peoples called the Japigi.

According to Thucydides (460-404 B.C.) and Strabo (58 c.-25 c. B.C.), the Japigi named the place in honour of Taras, the son of Poseidon (Neptune) and the nymph Satyria (Taras is widely represented on ancient coins of Taranto, called Nummus).

Roman era Taranto

The Ancient Romans referred to the city as 'Tarentum', or 'Neptunia'. It is possible that this term derives from the Sanskrit Taranta-h, which means 'the sea'. At that time Taranto was a thriving city, due to the commerce of the port and the fertility of the surrounding lands.

Taranto sided itself with Pyrrhus (318-272 BC) in a battle against Rome, following which the city was defeated by the Romans. In 272 BC it had to make an act of submission, to undergo punishment, and also to accept a military Roman occupying force controlling the city and region.

In any case, it is important to note that in the Augustan age the port of Taranto was highly valued, because it had a 'special relationship' with Greece. Some monuments of Greek Taranto can be seen in the 'Old Town', where, for instance, you see a column and a capital of a Doric temple of the sixth century.

Far more interesting are the ruins of the temple of Demeter and Core found in the locality called Giovinazzo. However, given that Taranto was one of the most famous cities of the Magna Graecia for the processing of votive pottery and objects in gold, the exhibits in the local National Museum have also been greatly enriched over time.

In general the archaeological history of Taranto comes from findings from the necropolis (including some figurative pottery, jewellery, ceramics). The extensive excavations in the acropolis have also much extended the heritage found in Taranto.

Medieval Taranto

In Medieval Ages Taranto was fortified by the Byzantines with Belisario in the 6th century, and passed to the Dukes of Benevento in the 7th century, but was subsequently destroyed by the Goths.

Rebuilt again, it passed to the Longobards and, around the end of the 10th century, it was sacked and almost destroyed by the Saracens. After nearly half a century it was rebuilt by the emperor of Byzantium - Nicephorus Phocas (912-969 A.D.).

The city changed hands several times in the following centuries, becoming Norman under Robert Guiscard in 1063); then Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese, who governed it until the 18th century. Later Taranto was conquered by the Spaniards, under whose rule it became an important military port, and then passed to the Bourbons, until the 'Risorgimento' and Unification of Italy in 1860-1861.

See the Taranto travel guide.

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