As Puglia’s dirty little secret, Taranto doesn’t even get a mention in many travel guides. It’s a shame as the town has an incredible history, stretching back to the Ancient Greeks, due to its exceptional suitability as a port.
The town is blessed with an outer bay, known as the Mare Grande, and two smaller inner seas, together known as the Mare Piccolo, the entrance to which is guarded by an island.
However, the sprawling port around the bay and the derelict old town on the island, along with a large navy base on one side of the Mare Piccolo and several oil refineries on the other, have done Taranto’s reputation no favours.
So, there are more beautiful places in Puglia but I still find Taranto to be a very interesting place and it has quickly grown on me the better I’ve got to know it. A visit to the Archaeology Museum made me aware of its illustrious past (see later post) and in this post I describe a walk you could do to become more familiar with its current layout.
You’ll find a Google map with all the places mentioned here.
Turning left out of the Hotel Delfino, walk down to the western end of Lungomare Vittorio Emanuele III taking in the views of the sea and the port in the distance as you go.
On the right just before the end is the former governor’s palace, now the Prefecture of Taranto.
It was originally built in the fascist era as you can probably tell.
On the corner is the Monumento al Marinaraio, the sailors’ monument.
From here you can cross the old bridge to the Città Vecchia on the island.
By now you’ll have a good view of the Castello Aragonese www.castelloaragonesetaranto.com.
Continuing straight along Via Duomo you’ll immediately come to the remains of a Greek temple, the Tempio Dorico www.museotaranto.it.
It’s very atmospheric walking around the old town. Video here.
Even if it’s a little eerie at times.
There are many important buildings here, locked away behind their big gates.
But despite its dereliction, the Città Vecchia is still very much lived in…
Eventually you come to the Cathedral of Saint Cataldo. I’m not a big fan of Baroque so I’ve not been inside.
That said, the campanile around the back is quite striking.
The most important church however is the church and associated monastery of San Domenico. The Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore can trace its origins back to the Byzantine period and was used by the Templars in the Middle Ages. The current building dates from the mid-14th century.
Nearby, Palazzo Pantaleo www.comune.taranto.it at Vico Civico is fairly interesting to walk around.
In Piazza Fontana, just before the second bridge at the other end of the island, is another local landmark, the Torre dell’ Orologio.
From there you could double back and walk along the other side of the island, along the quay where all the small boats are.
Some are in better condition than others.
There are a few cheap seafood restaurants along Via Cariati that might be worth a try. Paranza is supposed to be good. [2020 note, Ristò Fratelli Pesce, http://www.fratellipesceristo.it is the one according to various sources].
Eventually the road will bring you round to this monument on Discesa Vasto, near the first bridge.
If you cross back over to the Borgo Nuovo and aim left, you will soon come to the Archaeology Musuem, the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto (MARTA). This museum is so good that I’ve given it its own post.
Alternatively or as well, you could go and have lunch at Al Gatto Rosso the best restaurant in town (see later post).
Or you could just admire the dolphins on the gates of Museo Talassografico “Attilio Cerruti“, a mollusc farming research institution on Via Roma.
From here it’s a stone’s throw to the town’s main square Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and the derelict brown hulk of the Palazzo degli Uffizi , a former orphanage, looming over it.
The bandstand is a much nicer thing to look at I think.
From here you can walk back to the hotel along Via d’Aquino, the Borgo Nuovo’s pedestrian shopping street.
Just in case you’re wondering, if you turn right out of the hotel instead of left, you come to…
… more hotels. Some old…
…and some new.
And that kind of sums up Taranto.
I’d happily come back a third time to get to know it even better.
More about places to eat and drink in Taranto next.