|Cities of the Norman worlds|
The name of Taranto is associated with that of Bohemund, Robert Guiscardís son by his first wife. Before capturing Antioch during the First Crusade, Bohemund received this fortified town in compensation for the inheritance of the duchy of Apulia which Guiscard had left to Roger Borsa, his son by his second wife, a Lombard princess.
Taranto was a large Greek colony and a prosperous Roman city. The city went into decline in the 6th century and was abandoned after an Arab incursion in the 10th century. Shortly afterwards, Taranto was retaken by the Byzantines and became a stronghold of the Empire, opening through its gulf onto the Ionian Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. It is one of the few towns in southern Italy in mediaeval times to have preserved certain aspects of the ancient layout, partly dictated moreover by its location.
The old town is on a spit opening on the south side onto the gulf, the Mare Grande (large sea), and enclosing a lagoon on the north side, the Mare Piccolo. Taranto was thus defended by water and the harbour channel probably already had a bridge linking the peninsula to terra firma. The town was laid out along a large main street, which opened up to the east onto the Landward Gate (Porta di Terra), and to the west onto the Seaward Gate (Porta Marittima).
In this space stood the castle in the west, the oldest parts still visible today dating back to the Aragonese period (14th c.), and the cathedral founded in the 11th century by Bishop Drogo (1070), whose name appears among the dignitaries present at the time of the dedication of the monastery at Monte Cassino. Most of all, in the duchy of Apulia, Taranto was the seat of a principality reserved for the Hautevillesí sons, even under age, as was again the case with Roger IIís grandson William, who became king at the age of 13 (1166-1189).