The archeological museum of Taranto is only displaying items found in and around Taranto which is a city in the very south of Italy. A museum only displaying items from a midsize Italian city might sound like a place which doesn’t have much of interest. But then you have to take into account the long history of the city. There is actually a lot to see at this museum.
There have been people living in the Taranto area long before the city of Taras was founded by men from the Greek city of Spartan. The men were the sons of unmarried Spartan woman and free men who were not Spartan citizen – a relationship of this sort was not allowed by Spartan law but was temporarily allowed because of an ongoing war meant Sparta wanted more men to serve in the army. Later the permission was revoked and the men were expelled from the Greek mainland. This is how Sparta got its only colony abroad and how the old city of Taras started its life as a Greek city.
Old Taras was a very successful city and in 500 BC it had somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 inhabitants making it one of the biggest cities in the world at that time. So there are actually a lot of remains from the Greek time. Later when Rome replaced Greece as the most important power in the Mediterranean they made sure their main southern road the Via Appia passed through Taranto on the way to Brindisi and beyond. So the Roman has left a lot of artefacts behind – many of which is displayed at the museum.
The museum is located in a big building and the exhibition is spread across two floors. The operating of the museum is a bit strange – you can’t just go in and start at the first floor and then take however long you want there and then make it to the second floor. No. the first floor is only open for an hour and then it will close for an hour and the second floor will open for an hour and then it will close for an hour – and this would continue through the day with the individual floor opening and closing.
We arrive a little after the start of the hour so we only have a short time to get through the first floor before it will close. So we hurry in having a look at the oldest part of the exhibition which focuses on prehistoric time including a couple of 20,000 year old small figurines which apparently is some of the most important items in the museum – though far from the biggest or most impressive items.
We continue around the prehistoric part of the exhibition seeing many things from different graves around the city which were a big contributor of the oldest artefacts. There is a mirror in one roof which makes it possible to look down in a sarcophagus with a skeleton inside. We make it through the prehistoric period and go to the time of the Greek arrival where there are many examples of pretty vases and more from the heyday of the city.
We just manage to make it quickly through all the rooms at the first floor with a couple of seconds to spare before the light will be turned off and then we make it to the second floor of the exhibition which focus on the later Roman period. The artefacts on display here are generally bigger and include many big statues and a large collection of mosaics.
If you are interested in old historic artefacts from the Greek and Roman period I would highly recommend a visit to the museum. It is truly one of the great museums of the ancient world anywhere in the world and unlike the bigger museums you will find in major cities you will have this museum almost to yourself so you can enjoy the exhibits without being disturbed by hordes of other visitors. The only inconvenience is the strange opening times of the different parts of the museum which can make it stressful to make it through the whole floor in time.