For a night and a day, Orna and I weaved our way around the labyrinth of narrow travertine alleyways inside the tiny old town of Taranto — La Città dei due Mari — in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy, and ate fantastic seafood, as we bided our time before her first of two cataract surgeries at Casa di Cura Bernardini. So far, so good.
Bookended by the Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo on the Ionian Sea, Taranto was colonized by the mighty, sandal-clad Spartan warriors of Ancient Greece back in 706 BC, named Taras and served as one of the principal cities of Magna Graecia until the Romans extended the Appian Way, booted out the Greeks, took over and renamed the city Tarentum.
Today, Taranto is really a tale of two cities: the ancient and somewhat derelict centro storico, now a man-made island, featuring the impressive Aragon Castle, that’s connected by two bridges; and, it’s modern, swankier counterpart with wide avenues, bustling commerce, a scenic seaside promenade and white-knuckle traffic.
Not your typical tourist destination, Taranto is anchored to its illustrious Greco-Roman past that’s on display in one of Italy’s finest Magna Graecia archeological museums, MArTA. If that doesn’t draw you in, then how about some of the finest mussels on the planet, harvested right here in the bays of Taranto and prepared in a variety of ways.