Founded in the eighth century B.C. by Spartan settlers, Taranto began to gain power up until becoming a kind of protected state by Greek authorities; in the fourth century B.C. it underwent its most glorious moment and was the head of a league between the Magnia Grecia cities. Today the only remains of that rich and populated city are the Tempio di Poseidone columns. Tarantos wealth was such that it inevitably came into conflict with the Romans; in its defence Taranto had a Greek merchant army led by Pyrrhus, king of Epirus. It surrendered in 272 B.C. and, due to the competition of neighbouring Brindisi, became smaller, leaving only the current old town. During the course of the centuries the city has been occupied by the Goths, the Longobards, the Saracens, the Byzantines, the Normans, the Svevi and the Angioines. It was the setting of wars between the Spanish and the French, the Turks, Venetians and the Barberians, and was also hit by epidemics and was so badly governed so as to bring the city to its knees. The French understood the strategic naval importance of Taranto and fortified it against the English and the Russians. After 1860, Taranto became one of the Navys strong holdings, due to the opening of a military port. After the Second World War, having lost its importance as a key strategic position in the war, the city witnessed the birth of the iron and steel zone and the petrol and cement plants that gave life to Tarantos third reincarnation.
The city and its monuments
The National Archaeological Museum is the most important of its kind in South Italy after that of Naples, and is a must for those who wish to learn about the history of Magna Grecia. Founded in 1881, inside it has many archaeological finds discovered in the city and surrounding areas: the bronze Zeus of Ugento, Athenas bust with the Corinthian helmet and the bust of a veiled Augustus. Ceramic production is also well represented and within the collection there is the la coppa con pesci and Gnathias ceramics as well as a collection of gold in which there are many gold plated tiaras. The Castle and the Cathedral are further examples of Tarantos beauty. Ferdinand of Aragon built the castle at the end of the 1400s so as to protect the west head of the river whilst the cathedral has a baroque facade, which only allows a glimpse of the primitive Romanic structure on its sides.
The geographical area
Castellaneta coasts one of the largest cliffs in Puglia. Its inhabitants once hid from pirate invasions in the rocks cavities. San Marzano di San Giuseppe is situated on a chalky hill of the Murge Taratine, and yet some of the population have Albanian origins. Mottola, rising on one of the hills that dominate the plain where Roman Console Curio Dentato defeated Pyrrhus, boasts ancient roots and as proof of this, there are its majestic megalithic walls. Massacra is important for its long stretches of citrus and olive plantations and, although it was once only inhabited by farmers and shepherds, it subsequently became home to monks who made the earth their place of work. Martina Franca situated on the south side of the Murgia dei trulli, is a typical city with white buildings. Finally we must mention Grottaglie, which is famous for its artistic ceramic production. This profession has is roots in the Greek occupation and in the 1700s it already provided work for over five thousand people in 42 factories. Grottaglie is also famous for numerous caves and Basilian monasteries situated on the cliffs near to the town.