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Taranto

Taranto (tä´räntō), 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. BC, Taranto was a town of Magna Graecia and was powerful enough to resist the Romans until 272 BC 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.

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Taranto, battle of

Taranto, battle of, 1940. On 11 November 1940, 21 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious launched a torpedo attack at night on the Italian fleet at anchor off Taranto. Two aircraft were lost but heavy damage was done and the remaining Italian vessels sought more remote harbours. This Fleet Air Arm victory was particularly welcome at a bad time during the Second World War and was followed up in March 1941 by the naval success off Cape Matapan.

J. A. Cannon

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