Taking a trip to the unexpected side of Italy

Jon Ingleton reports from a visit to Taranto hosted by the Port Network of the Ionian Sea

Taking a trip to the unexpected side of Italy
CFR’s Jon Ingleton (front centre) with fellow visitors to the Castello Aragonese in Taranto

By Jon Ingleton |

The Spartans first occupied old Taranto in 706 BC and their legacy lives on today in the spirit of the city’s inhabitants as this proud community fights to rebuild the old town and restore its prosperous past.  

The Port Network of the Ionian Sea is an active participant, leading restorative initiatives across both the old and new areas of town, and it adeptly guided us around the town and the region’s tourism highlights. 

The 15th-century Castello Aragonese is the most recognisable landmark in the city, built on top of previous Byzantine fortifications. Shaped vaguely like a scorpion and sitting on a rocky bank, the castle was built from stone excavated from the seabed between 1487 and 1492 at the request of the King of Naples. Now occupied by the Italian navy, the castle’s magnificence and bewitching stories combine to provide cruise visitors with an unmissable tour, further enhanced by the architectural ingenuity of the swing bridge it guards. 

Opposite the castle stand the two surviving Doric columns of the Temple of Poseidon, which is now thought to have been dedicated to a female deity. Dating back to 580-570BC, the temple is the oldest in Magna Graecia (the name for the coastal areas of Southern Italy colonised by the ancient Greeks). While the remains provide only a small ruinous visual perspective of bygone times, they deliver a mindful reminder of the city’s rich history. 

From the temple it is just a short stroll along the bank of Mar Grande to the Cattedrale di San Cataldo, one of the oldest and most glorious examples of Romanesque architecture in Southern Italy. The Byzantines commenced building works in 1071 and the cathedral continuously evolved until the 18th-century addition of its Baroque façade. The interior holds an extravagant and eclectic ensemble of design embellishments, a feast for the eyes and a celebration of history’s finest craftspeople. 

Across the bridge in the new town on an unremarkable side street is the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto. It is here among countless ancient artefacts that cruise guests can truly appreciate the historical relevance of Taranto. Largely devoted to the archaeology of ancient Taranto, perhaps among the most astonishing exhibits is the Athlete of Taranto and the Venuses of Parabita, a pair of small Palaeolithic carved rocks – relics that you can reasonably conclude contributed towards the birth of art. 

There is more on offer in Taranto than just historical marvels and architectural splendour. For example, sunseekers and water sport enthusiasts will delight at the numerous sandy beaches and blue seas. Meanwhile, conservation enthusiasts can experience Jonian Dolphin Conservation’s valuable activities on a whale- and dolphin-watching tour. An unnecessary footnote for foodies is the acknowledgement that they will be spoilt for choice with an impressive range of tasting activities and countless fine sources of traditional Italian fare. 

Taranto is a safe and easy city to navigate with nowhere too far away from the port, even when taking a modest pace. There are numerous appealing stops for refreshments between the popular sights and the locals are friendly and helpful – important attributes for cruise passengers as they explore a new destination.

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.     

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