Taranto (täˈräntō) [key], Lat. Tarentum, city (1991 pop. 232,334), capital of Taranto prov., Apulia, S Italy, on the Gulf of Taranto, an arm of the Ionian Sea. Taranto is, after La Spezia, the chief military port of Italy, and it is also an agricultural, industrial, and fishing center. Manufactures include steel, metal products, refined petroleum, cement, machinery, and ships. Of note in Taranto are the cathedral (11th–12th cent., with a baroque facade), a castle (originally Byzantine, rebuilt in 1480), and the national museum (with a fine collection of Greek pottery).
Founded by colonists from Sparta in the 8th cent. B.C., Taranto was a town of Magna Graecia and was powerful enough to resist the Romans until 272 B.C. It was destroyed (927) by the Arabs but was later rebuilt by the Byzantines. As a part of the kingdom of Naples the city was strongly fortified and was held as a principality by various lords. Its harbor, protected by the Italian fleet, was bombed several times in World War II. Much of the Italian navy was caught and destroyed there.