Taranto is situated in the Apulia province of Puglia, in south-eastern Italy. It is the chief town of the province and an important maritime base and industrial port, located at the northern end of the vast gulf from which it takes its name.
The oldest part of the city lies on an island with the more recent development on a peninsula (which separates the drainage areas of 'Great Sea' and 'Little Sea'). The two parts are connected by two bridges.
The best way to arrive in Taranto by car is following the impressive road 377 called 'Road Of the Caves', which brings you directly to Taranto. Those arriving by train will take the line Bari-Taranto line.
A city tour can start in the Città Vecchia (Old City) of taranto, which contains the castle, an architectural jewel built by Ferdinand of Aragon in 1492. The castle is very powerful with its four towers.
Behind the castle, you can still see, as well as the 'rotating bridge', the ruins of an ancient 6th century BC Doric temple. The rotating bridge is of particular importance to the city, because it allows the passage of large ships and also connects the mainland to the islet on which stands the Old Town.
Well worth a visit is Taranto Cathedral, which dates from 1070, has been extensively remodelled over the centuries and now has a Baroque façade. The interior has three naves, the middle one with a wooden coffered ceiling and a roof supported by 16 columns of marble and granite.
The chapel dedicated to San Cataldo (405 c.-480 c.), an Irish monk and the first bishop and patron of the city, is remarkable for the variety of marble and embedded semiprecious stones. There are also numerous paintings in the cathedral, including frescoes by Paolo de Matteis (1662-1728).
Also remarkable is the Romanesque-Gothic style Church of San Domenico Maggiore, dating from the 11th century and with a single nave. The church contains an icon by Marco Pino (1525-1587 c.) called The Circumcision.
In the Piazza Fontana, the ancient great square of the fishermen of Taranto, the fountain that gave the square it's name has gone following restructuring. Here you can see the 18th century clock tower and also some noble 18th century palaces: the Liberty style Palazzo Carducci; the Baroque style Palazzo Galeota; the Palazzo La Tagliata and the Palazzo Pantaleo.
The so-called New Town (beyond the Rotating Bridge) follows a 19th century plan. This part of Taranto is located to the south-east of the Old Town and contains a substantial number of artefacts.
Pass through Piazza Castello and along Via Matteotti (with the Oceanographic Museum) and the Piazza Archytas to reach the National Museum, with its 16 rooms containing extensive historical material.
The first six rooms contain works of sculpture - many of great importance including Aphrodites Head (6th c. BC by the Praxiteles School); some heads of mythological characters; and a sarcophagus decorated with scenes of battle between Greeks and Trojans during the Trojan War (from the Hellenistic period)...and many other sculptures and reliefs.
Also in the museum be sure to see the area devoted to Attic ceramics, with some exceptional pieces, like the cup with Banquet scenes by the Painter of Heidelberg, an Attic ceramist active around 575 B.C.), and other ceramics with Hercules, Dionysus, Theseus and Circe.
The 'Hall of gold' contains gold and silver jewellery, then upstairs there is a collection of archaeological finds dating back to prehistoric times, with various everyday objects in stone, also knives, swords, tripods, spear points.
Leaving the museum and then taking Via Cavour and Via Roma you reach the garden of Villa Peripato, rich in plants such as palms and pines and with a central statue of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
In the New Town you can also visit the Promenade Vittorio Emanuele III, lined with palm trees which shade the sides of the beautiful buildings, such as the Prefecture, which also contains an important Library, the 'Post Office building', 'Piazza Ebalia', and the Cathedral dedicated to the Great Mother of God.
This cathedral, renovated with a modern Gothic-style architecture by Giò Ponti in 1971, incorporates the symbolic representation of a sail, with which the artist reminds us of the ancient maritime vocation of Taranto.
Also worthy of note in this part of Taranto is the Square Archytas (dedicated to Archytas, an eminent mathematician of Taranto in the 4th century BC) and dominated by the 'Office building', which was built in stages between the 17th and 18th centuries and has a beautiful façade, carved with a file of windows, decorations and ornaments.
An interesting antique-dealing market, with some ancient furniture and work of art, is held in this square once a month.
Long-standing traditions are very much alive in the neighbourhood of Taranto. You can see valuable handicraft work (especially beautiful ceramics) at the Grottaglie (and the Museum of Majolica, with artifacts dating from the 16th c.) and Manduria.
In addition to crafts you will also find that the local cuisine is one of the best in Italy. As well as loacl oils try the 'Primitive Manduria' (a naturally sweet liqueur) and, among wines, the Martina, a wine that goes with the typical local fish dishes, such as the large and very tasty 'mussels from Taranto', the 'Tarentello' (tuna fish and spices), and, among meats, the famous 'Capocollo' (pork neck).