Want to visit the “city of the two seas”, but don’t know where to start? Follow me to discover all the things to see in Taranto, activities to do and places not to be missed!
One of Apulia’s brightest cities is certainly Taranto, a city that overlooks the Mermaids’ Gulf and straddles the Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo. And it is precisely from this geographical position that it takes its name “City of the Two Seas”.
Taranto has got very ancient origins, dating back as far as the 8th century B.C., when the Spartans founded the city under the name “Taras”. Thanks to its strategic position in the centre of a gulf, the fertility of its land and trade, it was one of the most important poleis of the time, so much so that it became the capital of Magna Graecia.
Today, the Apulian city appears to us characterised by a spectacular promenade, where the sun creates wonderful plays of light… The ideal place for a romantic outing! Moreover, there are tall and mighty palm trees here, which give the setting an absolutely different and special charm.
Moving on to the city’s most characteristic places, we find the Gulf of Taranto, which I will tell you about in a moment, and the sea, where a historical population of dolphins and other cetaceans lives and thrives. It is characterised by clear waters and shallow, sandy seabed… Perfect for a beach holiday and exciting diving!
The port of Taranto is also worth mentioning, as it is among the first in Italy for cargo traffic. Located on the northern coast of the gulf, this port has always played an important role both commercially and strategically.
You should also know that the city is home to Ilva, one of Europe’s largest industrial complexes for steel production, and the MArTA National Archaeological Museum, which we will discuss later. Unfortunately, Ilva is also remembered for the dramatic environmental disaster it generated, for which the judiciary ordered the seizure of the steel factory in 2012.
But beyond this sad event, Taranto is full of wonderful things to see! It is also perfect for food and wine lovers, thanks to its panzerotti, capocollo di Martina Franca, mussels, seafood and wine, with the famous Primitivo di Manduria.
So, follow me to discover all the things to see and do in Taranto, but first I would like to tell you a traditional legend, which is sure to make you smile!
The Mermaids’ Legend
A magical place, which hides a legend behind it, is the Gulf of Taranto. Do you want to know what I’m talking about before you find out what to visit in this amazing city? Should you find yourself strolling along the seafront, you can admire the mermaid sculptures that inspired an ancient tale, whose protagonists are two newlyweds: a fisherman and a girl known for her beauty.
One bad day, the wife, in a moment of weakness, betrayed her husband, but worn out by guilt, she immediately ran to tell him. He, offended, threw her into the sea, although he knew that the young woman could not swim. Here she was saved by the local sirens, who, captivated by her beauty, made her their queen, giving her the name Skuma (Foam), as she came from the waves.
In the meantime, the husband, repenting for his act, returned in search of his wife. He was caught by the sirens and taken to the castle, where the queen recognised him and begged the sirens to bring him safely back to earth. Once safe, the man looked for a way to reunite with his beloved and found the answer from a fairy, who told him that he should pluck a flower from the mermaids’ garden. He immediately ran to tell his wife about it and the two, determined to forgive each other, devised a plan: they distracted the mermaids with a chest of precious goods and Skuma stole the flower. The fairy, having obtained her compensation, allowed the two to return to love each other forever on land!
It’s a beautiful legend, isn’t it? In the name of forgiveness. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it.
At this point, we can start talking about the best things to see in and around Taranto, starting with the city for those with little time. Then, we will move on to the surrounding areas, for those who want to extend their stay in this beautiful land, in the name of food and wine, history, culture, sea and wellness!
What to visit in Taranto in a day?
The beating heart of Taranto is undoubtedly the old city, an island between the Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo, connected to the mainland by the imposing Ponte Girevole (swing bridge), considered the symbol of the city.
In the area of the old city, you cannot miss Taranto’s Aragonese Castle, called Castel S. Angelo, dating back to the 15th century, which stands out for its majesty. I also recommend that you visit the marvellous old palaces dotting the island, such as Palazzo Pantaleo, Palazzo Galeota, Palazzo Amati and Palazzo D’Ayala, and really many others!
Moreover, as if this were not enough already, going underground we will discover the underground Taranto, which preserves the traces of the ancient metropolis of Magna Graecia and narrates the urban evolution of the Byzantine era… It is a wonderful experience, which I recommend you do not miss while visiting Taranto!
Here, in the remains of the underground city, we find the hypogea, built by excavating the calcarenitic bank. Among these, there are some that stand out for their beauty, such as the hypogeum de Beaumont Bellacicco, characterised by a series of vast underground rooms that were used for different functions over the centuries.
Returning to the surface, what remains for you to see of the old city are the alleys, which make this place magical and evocative, taking your mind back to the wonders of the past.
Temple of Poseidon
When deciding what to see in Taranto, you cannot overlook the Temple of Poseidon, a peripteral temple of Doric order located in Piazza Castello in the city’s historic centre. Its importance lies in two factors: the first is that this temple is the oldest in Magna Graecia (dating from around the 6th century B.C.), and the second is that it is the only Greek place of worship still open to visitors in the Borgo Antico.
Continuing with the tour, definitely on the list is the MArTA, the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto! It exhibits one of the largest collections of artefacts from the Magna Graecia era, including the famous golds of Taranto.
The churches of Taranto
The ancient town of Taranto never ceases to amaze us. In fact, our tour continues with the wonderful cathedral of San Cataldo, the oldest cathedral in the whole of Puglia! It is a treasure trove of jewels from different eras that tell the story of peoples and their cultures. This was initially dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, then to Saint Cataldo the Bishop. It was built by the Byzantines in the second half of the 10th century.
In addition, we find the Church of San Domenico, a Romanesque-Gothic church, built on the remains of a Greek temple from the archaic period and its construction was completed around 1360… Absolutely a must-see in Taranto!
Marina of Taranto
Now let’s talk about the sea! The beaches of the Marina di Taranto are sandy shores stretching east of the Marina itself. The latter is located within the historic port in the heart of the Old City, with beautiful beaches and fine, soft sand. Large pine forests alternate with picturesque views over the sheer cliffs.
If you are looking for a scenic spot to enjoy the view over this splendid sea, then you absolutely must go to the “Ringhiera del Corso Due Mari”. It is a vantage point bordered by a railing, where there is a decoration with a five-pointed star and the coat of arms of the Savoy Navy, for the unbreakable bond between Taranto and the sailors who landed there.
The Cheradi Islands
The beautiful sea of Taranto also washes the shores of an archipelago, consisting of the islands of San Pietro and San Paolo. At one time there was also San Nicolicchio, which has now unfortunately disappeared. Initially called “Elettridi” by the Greeks, they were soon transformed into Cheradi (i.e. promontory) by the historian Thucydides.
Landing and sailing are forbidden on the island of San Paolo, while the island of San Pietro has recently been partly opened to the public. In fact, a very extensive beach is accessible from the city. Between the two, the island of San Pietro, in particular, is a true natural oasis for numerous species of fauna, which, due to the scarce presence of man, have managed to thrive!
So if you are wondering what to visit in Taranto, definitely put the island of San Pietro on your list!
Great Mother of God co-cathedral
Moving now to the new town of Taranto, we find the Great Mother of God Co-cathedral, inaugurated in 1970 to a design by architect Gio Ponti. The structure combines the religious aspect with the city’s maritime tradition. In fact, it represents a sail reflected in the water of the three pools in front of the entrance, symbolising the sea.
Finally, among the best things to see in Taranto, there is Villa Peripato, one of the greenest corners of the city, with many animals living inside. They include swans and turtles, showing themselves to the public. The history of Villa Peripato (from the Greek meaning “place where one walks”) goes back to the De Beaumont family, who had their private gardens with orange groves and vineyards here. Today, the villa houses the bust of Leonardo da Vinci, once on the ship of the same name, which sank in the Mar Piccolo. Unfortunately, this wonderful natural area has been deprived of many green areas, replaced by cinemas or other built-up areas.
Visiting Taranto and its surroundings
After talking about the best things to see in Taranto, let’s move on to its surroundings:
First and foremost is undoubtedly the natural paradise of the Parco delle Gravine, extending over the territory of no less than twelve municipalities in the province of Taranto and one in the province of Bari, encompassing 28 thousand hectares. The Regional Natural Park of the Terra delle Gravine was established in 2005 and has quickly become one of the most important natural areas in Europe. There are several villages among the ravines, displaying the typical architecture of antiquity, rich in icons dating back to the Byzantine period, with images of the Madonna, Christ, various Saints and Martyrs.
Another marvellous ravine can be found in Laterza, where the erosive action of the Lato river has generated a veritable canyon in the rock, with natural scenery of incomparable beauty. Along the eastern edge of the ravine there is the small rock church dedicated to San Vito martire, the ancient patron saint of Laterza, which has preserved almost all its frescoes intact.
We proceed on our tour of the fantastic things to see in and around Taranto through Grottaglie, known for its production of artistic ceramics and table grapes. It is located on the border with the province of Brindisi and features the Episcopio Castle. Inside the castle, two exhibitions are held every year: the Ceramics Exhibition (August-September) and the Crib Exhibition (December-January). In this area, to the west of the town of Grottaglie, there is also the Fullonese ravine, a ravine almost a kilometre long and 40 metres deep, full of caves hollowed out in the rock dating back to the 13th century.
On the other hand, Martina Franca is an agricultural, commercial and industrial centre well known for the Baroque architecture that it offers tourists. A curiosity in this regard is that the city is named after Martin of Tours. In fact, according to tradition, Martin came to the rescue of the locals several times.
Speaking of the surroundings of Taranto, we cannot forget Manduria, whose historical centre is spread out in a series of narrow, twisted streets. The main monuments in this area include the Mother Church, the medieval Jewish ghetto, the clock tower and sections of the ancient Messapian walls.
Recently, excavations have brought to light tombs, vases and coins from the Roman period. Finally, as wine lovers know, Manduria is known for the production of Primitivo wine, Terra d’Otranto PDO olive oil, Pomodorino di Manduria and Carosello di Manduria.
Massafra is part of the Terra delle Gravine Regional Natural Park and hosts the WWF oasis of Monte Sant’Elia and, on the coast, the Stornara Nature Reserve. Moreover, in the midst of all this greenery are settlements of the rock civilisation. The city is also known for its Carnival, which I will tell you about later.
The best 10 things to see in Taranto
If you had to choose between all the things to see in Taranto, I think the best 10 are:
- the old town
- the MArTA
- the island of San Pietro
- the beaches
- the ravines (in particular that of Laterza)
- the gulf of the Taranto
- the “Terra delle Gravine” Natural Park
- Villa Peripato
What to do in Taranto
It is obvious so far that there are plenty of things to see in Taranto, but let’s talk about what to do in Taranto, this is also a subject not to be underestimated… But rest assured, you will not be disappointed!
Obviously, at the top of the list, there are the activities that include the wonderful Taranto sea, with its golden beaches, where you can enjoy a variety of water sports, such as surfing, windsurfing, snorkelling, etc.
Moving instead to the mainland, you will find a variety of trekking routes to breathtaking viewpoints. Food and wine is also one of the highlights of this place, but I’ll tell you about that in a moment!
On the other hand, if you are looking for fun activities to do in the evening, there are many clubs to visit, including on the waterfront, which bring Taranto to life at night. For children, there are many opportunities to do activities to discover the local marine fauna or to visit the WWF oasis “Palude La Vela”.
In addition to the aforementioned sports activities, I highly recommend taking some time to visit Taranto’s beaches, which are perfect for crystal-clear sea lovers. Among the most beautiful and important are: Marina di Pulsano, Marina di Lizzano, Castellaneta Marina and Marina di Ginosa.
b. Food & wine
As I told you, food and wine is one of Taranto’s strong points, as it has been able to combine the flavours of its crystal-clear sea with those of its fertile land.
Typical dishes include mussels, several dairy products, Taranto PDO olive oil, panzerotti, bombette and pettole. Local fine wines include big names such as Primitivo di Manduria, Aleatico and Lizzano DOC.
A very important place in Taranto is held by handicrafts. In fact, the city and its surroundings are teeming with workshops of skilled craftsmen, who devote themselves mainly to ceramics, creating objects of rare beauty!
Besides pottery, there are also many goldsmiths and artists of various kinds.
One activity that I would recommend, to pass the time in an enjoyable way and to learn something new, is to enrol in a ceramics course, where you will discover the magical art of the local craftsmen… Visit Taranto to discover these little wonders!
The Carnival of Massafra is among the most important events held in Taranto and the surrounding area. Most of the route of the parade of floats is not fenced off and citizens (as well as travellers) can participate directly in the entertainment and fun. It is in fact considered one of the most relevant carnivals, so much so that the Italian government has recognised it as one of Italy’s historic carnivals.
Continuing with the events, we find the rites of Holy Week in Taranto. It takes place from Palm Sunday and is one of the most important events celebrated in the city. The Palio di Taranto is also a key traditional event, consisting of a costume event and a rowing boat race.
How to get to and around the city
To get to Taranto, you will find the railway station and the marina on Molo Sant’Eligio. As for an airport, Taranto has no airport: the nearest is Bari airport, an hour and 15 minutes’ drive away. There are also other ways to get to Taranto such as by Flixbus or Itabus.
Within the city, you can comfortably move around on foot. Or if you prefer by bicycle, car or the city’s public transport.
And now my Taranto must-see tour ends here! I hope that I have made you want to visit this wonderful city and discover all the things to see and do in Taranto.
Don’t waste any more time, book your activity! With Italia Delight, you can book tailor-made food and wine experiences and trips, directly with the best Italian Food Experts.
Enjoy your trip to Taranto and see you soon! 😉