Discovering the ancient origins of Taranto, founded by settlers of mighty Sparta
(Fabien Bièvre-Perrin, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
We arrive in Via Marche, where a seemingly insignificant building stands, blending in with the city constructions. However, we are near an incredible jewel of Taranto’s history: the necropolis (meaning graveyard) of the polis Taras. Here, through a unique and original experience over archaeological excavations, it is possible to rediscover, the ancient necropolis of the city. This place boasts about 140 burials, dating back in time to the period between the 7th century and the end of the 3rd century BCE. A real town rises among coffins and tombstones, divided by social classes, able to tell visitors a lot about ancient society.
In the Greek world, honours due to the dead were a fundamental duty of religious piety, which fell to children or close relatives. The celebration of the ritual was believed to appease the deceased’s journey to Hades (the afterlife for the Greeks). In fact, it was believed that the soul of those who had not received funeral honours was condemned to wander restlessly and haunted those who had not observed the funeral obligation. The traditional rite, however, has not changed substantially over time. The women washed the deceased’s body and sprinkled it with essences after their eyes had been closed (in classical times, it was customary to place an obolus in the mouth, payment for passage on Charon’s boat). Then, covered and wrapped in a shroud, the body was exposed on a bed, with the feet facing the door; crowns and bandages were placed on it. The exposure varied in duration (usually one or two days), and the body was watched over during the night.
Here, among common burials, chamber tombs stand out as an expression of high social classes. These are elevated compared to the others, precisely at the crossroads of the road axes. They are accessible through a stepped or chute-like corridor, called “dromos”, and have walls partly excavated or built of regular sandstone blocks. Paintings decorate the side walls, and the ” kline ” burial bed is carved into the rock.
The Necropolis of Taranto is a unique gem that represents a beautiful comparison to the city’s present-day appearance, creating a vivid contrast between ancient and modern urbanisation in visitors’ minds.
This archaeological site is a clear example of ancient values suffering the effects of indiscriminate industrialisation. The necropolis was much larger, but due to the construction of the surrounding buildings, only this portion of the original site has survived to this day. Many archaeological sites and artefacts in Italy today, as in the rest of the world, have fallen into disuse due to various factors and circumstances. Despite this difficult coexistence between past and present, we cannot but appreciate what we have inherited, and acknowledge the efforts of those who have worked to save this heritage.