The Port of Taranto lies on the shores of the Gulf of Taranto on the Salentine Peninsula in the northeast corner of the “instep of the Italian boot.” The oldest part of the Port of Taranto covers an island, and the more modern city is located on the mainland around the island. It is also Italy’s main naval base. In 2006, the Port of Taranto was home to over 197 thousand people.
The Port of Taranto is the capital of the Province of Taranto and a major commercial port. It has mature and thriving industries that include foundries for iron and steel, chemical works, factories that process foods, and shipyards that produce warships. Unfortunately, the Port of Taranto experienced a financial crisis when it declared bankruptcy in 2006 due to its significant liabilities.
The area of the Port of Taranto was settled by Greeks from Laconia and Sparta who overran the earlier Messapian village, Taras, in the 8th Century BC. Relocating the village to the Salentine Peninsula, the new Taras was soon a major Greek colony in southern Italy and the base for additional coastal colonies. In the 4th Century BC, the town reached its military and financial height under Archytas, Greek scientist and philosopher.
After his death, a number of wars began that led to conquest by Rome in 272 BC when its name was changed to Tarentum. For a brief time, the town was taken by the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal. The Romans retook the Port of Taranto and plundered the Port of Taranto. Under Roman rule, the city declined.
While many Greek tombs have been found in the Port of Taranto, few other Greek remains have been discovered there. Found in the tombs, however, have been many vases of Greek and local origin and several hundred statues of the god Apollo. Most of the artifacts can be found today in the Port of Taranto’s National Museum. Roman remains include public baths, an amphitheatre, a house, many mosaic floors, and burial and cremation tombs.
After the fall of Rome, the Port of Taranto was overrun by Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, and Arabs from the 6th to the 10th Century. The Saracens destroyed it in 927, and then the Byzantines rebuilt the Port of Taranto forty years later.
In 1063, Norman Robert Guiscard conquered the Port of Taranto, and his son was the Prince of Taranto. During Norman rule, the Port of Taranto was base for many Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. The Port of Taranto was ruled by the House of Anjou and the Kingdom of Naples in the 16th and 17th Centuries, when the Turks attacked it often.
In the 19th Century during the Napoleonic Wars, the Port of Taranto was a French naval base. It was returned to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1815. In 1860, it became part of the new Kingdom of Italy. In the late 19th Century, entry to the Mare Piccolo harbor was provided by the excavation of a channel, making the old city an island.
In the 20th Century, the Port of Taranto was an important base for the Italian Navy during both World Wars. It was bombed heavily by the British in 1940, and they occupied the Port of Taranto in 1943.
Today, the Port of Taranto is home to Italy’s main naval base and arsenal as well as shipyards that build warships. The European Coal and Steel Community has a large iron and steel works there, and other industries include food processors and canners and manufacturers of cement, chemicals, and textiles. The land surrounding the Port of Taranto is fertile and productive, and the Mare Piccolo (small sea) or inner basin supports mussel and oyster farming and fishing.