TARANTO (anc. Tarentum, q.v.), a seaport of Apulia, Italy, in the province of Lecce, 50 m. from that town W. by N. by road, and 68 m. by rail (44 m. W. by S. from Brindisi). Pop. (1901) 50,592 (town); 60,331 (commune). The city proper is situated on a rocky island 56 ft. above sea-level, which in ancient times was a peninsula, the isthmus on the west having been cut through by Ferdinand I. of Aragon. This island separates the Gulf of Taranto from the deep inlet of the Mare Piccolo, and is sheltered by two other flat islands, San Pietro and San Paolo; the latter is occupied by a lighthouse. This rock is the site of the citadel of the ancient town; its population is confined within small houses and narrow streets. The Strada Garibaldi along the Mare Piccolo is inhabited by fishermen whose language retains traces of Greek. The cathedral, dedicated to San Cataldo, an Irish bishop, dating from the 11th century, has externally some remains of Saracenic Gothic; internally it has been completely modernized, and the shrine of the patron saint has been termed " an orgy of rococo.'" Below it is an early Christian basilica excavated in 1901. There is a fine museum in the former convent of San Pasquale containing antiquities unearthed in the neighbourhood. Adjacent is the Palazzo degli Uffizi, completed in 1896, containing various public offices. To the south, outside the Porta di Lecce, is the Citta Nuova, on the site of the main part of the ancient town. The chief industry is the cultivation of oysters in four large beds in the Mare Piccolo; besides oysters, Taranto carries on a large trade in cozze, a species of large black mussel, which is packed in barrels with a special sauce. The other trades are olive-oil refining, barrel-making and soap-boiling; corn, honey and fruit are largely exported. Excellent fish abound in the Mare Piccolo, ninety-three different species being found. The ebb and flow of the tide is distinctly visible here, Taranto being one of the few places in the Mediterranean where it is perceptible. In 1861 the strategic importance of Taranto was recognized by the Italian government, and in 1864 a Naval Commission designated it as third maritime arsenal after Spezia and Venice. Work was begun on the arsenal in 1883 and continued as the finances of the state permitted; it is capable of turning out new warships and of executing repairs of all kinds for the Mediterranean squadron. The arsenal extends for a mile and a half along the southern, coast of the Mare Piccolo, which constitutes its chief basin. The receiving-dock and the anchorage for torpedo boats, with its wide landing-stage, form dependencies. The dock, 655 ft. long, 130 ft. wide and 37 ft. deep, is divided into two compartments, each capable of containing a full-sized battleship, and can be pumped dry in eight hours by two 600 h.p. steam pumps. The Mare Grande is connected with the Mare Piccolo by a channel 875 yds. long, large enough to permit the passage of the largest battleship; the channel was bridged in 1887 by an iron swivel bridge, which when open leaves a passage way 196 ft. broad. In its present form the Mare Piccolo provides a well-sheltered anchorage, 36 ft. deep and 6325 acres in extent. The commercial harbour lies S. of the railway station outside the Mare Piccolo. In 1905 nearly 180,000 tons of shipping cleared the port.
In 927 Taranto was entirely destroyed by the Saracens, but rebuilt in 967 by Nicephorus Phocas, to whom is due the construction of the bridge over the channel to the N.W. of the town, and of the aqueduct which passes over it. The town was taken by Robert Guiscard in 1063. His son Bohemond became prince of the Terra d'Otranto, with his capital here. After his death Roger II. of Sicily gave it to his son William the Bad. The emperor Frederick II. erected a castle (Rocca Imperiale) at the highest point of the city. In 1301 Philip, the son of Charles II. of Anjou, became prince of Taranto. The castle dates from the Aragonese period. The tarantula (see below), inhabits the neighbourhood of Taranto. The wild dance, called tarantella, was supposed, by causing perspiration, to drive out the poison of the bite. (T. As.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)