Tragic Taranto, dominated by Italy’s largest steelworks and declared a high environmental risk in 1991, due to nearby toxic emissions, nevertheless has a fascinating history and its ancient Greek ruins hint at a glorious past, providing much needed relief to the city.
As Daisy Petrelli, from Taranto, points out, ‘sometimes the locals don’t appreciate the city as they should’, but she is a great example of the many young, positive and ethical Tarantini seeking to improve things for their city.
According to legend, Taranto was founded as a Greek colony by Taras, the mythical son of Poseidon, arriving dashingly on the back of a dolphin.
More mundanely, it was founded in 8th century BC by exiles from Sparta and then became a major colony of Magna Graecia.
However, when the Romans arrived in 3BC, they changed its name to Tarentum and instigated a decline in its trading importance when they connected the ancient Via Appia to Brindisi.
Known as ‘the city of two seas’, due to the excavation of a channel in the 19th century, the ancient Greek city became an island joined to the mainland by a bridge which opens, thus separating the two parts of the city.
It is definitely worth seeing ‘The Castello Aragonese’, rebuilt in the 15th century to protect against Turk invasion; the 11th century cathedral, dedicated to San Cataldo (and modified later with a Baroque facade) and also the ‘Museo Nazionale Archealogico’ which has an impressive Greek collection.
For present day explorations, the modern waterfront promenade, named after Vittorio Emmanuele III, has bustling shops and some delicious seafood restaurants.
Curiously, the Tarantula spider’s name originates from Taranto.
Although only the European Wolf spider can be found here, in ancient times the Tarantini would do a long, vigorous dance known as ‘The Tarantella’ to sweat out the venom, when they were bitten by Wolfie the wannabe Tarantula.
In actual fact, the Wolf spider’s venom isn’t really deadly at all, and a dolphin ride with Taras, would probably have done the trick just as well.