MARTA is located in the coastal city of Taranto, Italy. With a population of nearly 200,000, Taranto is one of the largest cities in Southern Italy. It serves as the capital of the Italian Province of Taranto in the Apulia region, and it is home to Italy’s largest naval base.
Taranto is known as “the city of two seas.” Facing the Ionian Sea of Southern Italy, the city is made up of natural peninsulas and surrounded by bays. The Big Sea — Mar Grande, in Italian — lies on the northwest of the city, and the Little Sea, or Mar Piccolo, is on the south. For hundreds of years, these bodies of water have served as ports for ships of both commercial and military nature for the region.
Taranto’s history can be traced back to the first Spartan colonization in the 1st century BC. The ancient Greeks called the town Taras, after the hero by the same name in Greek mythology. This original city was on a peninsula, overlooking the Big Sea and the Little Sea. While the modern city sits atop the original site, a few ancient relics remain from these days, including tombs, temple columns, and a portion of the city wall. Smaller artifacts from these sites and tombs are on display in MARTA, connecting archeological history to the present day.
Experts estimate that Taranto was one of the largest cities in the world around 500 BC, with a population of about 300,000. The city was a thriving commercial seaport at the time. A melting pot of art and culture, many examples of ancient Greek pottery and gold jewelry were created right here. These Apulian craftsmen are now known across the world, and preserved artifacts of both gold and decorated ceramic vessels are a part of the MARTA exhibition path.
Apulian pottery was often put to use for mortuaries. As the civilization grew, motifs such as florals and seated figures became customary of decorated ceramics coming from southern Italy. The area was known for its crafts and commercial trade. Eventually, the Roman empire expanded, and the southern region of Italy was conquered by the Romans in 272 BC. The city was no longer at the center of Mediterranean trade, and population declined.
Today’s visitors to Taranto will find MARTA to be the jewel of the city. Showcasing an impressive collection of local artifacts dating back to prehistory through ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, MARTA displays one of the largest collections of Southern Italian pottery and goldsmithing in existence. Learn about the city’s roots and path throughout history in the displays at the museum.
In Taranto’s Old Town, visitors will find the original street layout from the Byzantine era. Winding side streets lead to open piazzas, and the Aragon Castle is located here. This castle was built in the 15th century by King Ferdinand II of Aragon to defend the city against Turkish raids. Today, the castle is open to the public and is owned by the Italian Navy.
Today’s Tarantinian cuisine places emphasis on local foods, like olives, tomatoes, and seafood. Along with ancient artifacts, Taranto is famous for its mussels. Both the Big Sea and the Little Sea are excellent ecosystems for growing uniquely flavored mussels. Authors in ancient Greek and Rome wrote about Tarantinian mussels, and they are just as sought-after today.