The city of Taranto, at the head of the gulf of the same name, is one of Italy’s largest ports and the second most
important naval port after La Spezia. Founded in the 7th century BC by exiles from the Peloponnese city state of Sparta,
the city rapidly grew to be the de facto capital of Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies in the southern part of the Italian peninsula.
Its importance faded during the era of Roman expansion, particularly with the completion of the Via Appia linking Rome to the port of Brindisi, which resulted in Taranto being bypassed by much of the trade over which it had previously enjoyed a monopoly. The city’s unique natural harbour, with its three separate basins, has always made it an attractive base for naval forces and significant elements of the Italian navy were based here during both World Wars.
The harbour was the object of a major allied attack in November 1940, subsequently dubbed the Battle of Taranto, which was the first major use of a carrier-based strike force against naval targets. The battle resulted in the loss or incapacity of half the Italian battleship force and, together with the Battle of Cape Matapan four months later, enabled the Allied forces to wrest command of the Mediterranean from the Axis forces. Today, the city retains several traces of its earlier history, including an old town dating back to the Byzantine era and several Greek temple ruins. Visiting yachts normally berth in the Porto Mercantile in the outer harbour, the Mar Grande, or at one of several boatyards around the shores of the Mar Grande.