Discovering the ancient origins of Taranto, founded by settlers of mighty Sparta
(Davide Nardelli, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
We now cross the navigable canal and finally arrive in the old town, exactly where the acropolis once stood.
As recounted by Strabo, geographer and historian of antiquity, Taranto had a large and efficient harbour, with a perimeter of 100 stadiums (ancient measurement corresponding roughly to 600 feet) and enclosed by a large bridge. The city was situated on a peninsula, unlike today, whose soil was not very high, so boats were easily transported by land from one side to the other. This land rose somewhat to the height of the acropolis, exactly where we are now.
As a reminder, the columns of the ancient temple of Poseidon still stand today, which, although with only two columns, is capable of conveying its majesty and historical value, making it a treasure of the ancient Magna Grecia. Unfortunately, this is the only temple of Greek worship that survived in Taranto, but it is the oldest example in Southern Italy. This isthmus of land was in fact populated by other temples and monuments, which have been lost over time due to spoliation, construction and usage of materials.
Taranto had a magnificent gymnasium, probably where the Archita Gymnasium now stands, and a very large square, probably today’s Piazza Garibaldi, on which there was a bronze statue depicting Zeus in the act of hurling a thunderbolt, which, due to its size (18 metres high) was believed to be the second largest statue in the Greek world, surpassed only by the Colossus of Rhodes. In another square, called ‘Peripatos’, literally ‘destined for walks’, there was another statue, Heracles by Lysippus, which, following the victory of the Romans over the city, was brought to the Capitol by Quintus Fabius Maximus. Finally, in the city, there was an amphitheatre overlooking the sea, now buried under the area of Via Anfiteatro, where the people of Taranto celebrated the “Dionysia”, the festival in honour of Dionysus, the god of drunkenness and wine.
The ancient city of Taras had a vital cult for the god Poseidon, and naturally, a temple dedicated to this deity had to be erected in the town. Today we admire the mighty columns of the ancient temple, imagining times long past.