Cellino is a town in the high Salento area immersed in a flat countryside with plenty of spring water and rich in olive groves and vineyards, halfway between Brindisi and Lecce.
The name of Cellino comes from the Greek and means “black” as the colour of the olives that are cultivated, while San Marco comes from the devotion to the evangelist saint.
The territory of Cellino had been inhabited since ancient times and a tomb was found with three underground cells, which contained about 80 bodies, and nearby to Masseria Veli an oven for cooking pots dating back to 1800-2000 BC, i.e. to the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
A funerary plaque of Roman origin and other remains also indicate the presence of Rome, which had its largest port of embarkation for the Middle East in nearby Brindisi. The tombstone was dedicated by his sons to their father Caio Oscinio Aquila.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, this area of Salento found itself to be a watershed between the kingdom of the Lombards and the Roman Empire of the East and therefore of the Byzantines. Perhaps for this reason we have no news of any settlement and like all border areas this too had to be the subject of many conflicts.
The village of Cellino was formed in the Middle Ages in the 9th century around a small church, the Chapel of San Marco, which today is located near the cemetery, with a grange (country house) and which depended on the Abbey of Sant’Andrea dell’Isola in Brindisi. This first nucleus was founded by the Basilian monks of Greek origin who abandoned it in the 12th century when they were forced to leave the territory.
The Basilian monks had abandoned Byzantium starting from 726, when Emperor Leo III forbade the worship of sacred images, and they had taken refuge in the Salento where they initially lived in caves or in hollows of the ground. In all their shelters, the monks always realized an image of the Madonna for their prayers.
Over time, the monks built small churches and taught the local population to manage the fields.
When the Normans arrived in the 11th century, the Basilian monks abandoned Salento and even the small church of San Marco.
The current nucleus of Cellino San Marco was formed in the 12th century with the Castrum Celini castle mentioned in a document of 1291 in the Angevin Registers.
Cellino had many feudal lords commencing with the family of Baron Egidio di Falliosa and his wife Fiordelisa. In 1455 King Alfonso named, as lord, Tommaso de Noha, whose family remained without heirs, and in 1578 Cellino San Marco returned under the control of the king who sold it to Magnifico Giovanni Antonio Albrizi. The Albrizi family were merchants who came from the north (Como) and built the castle, now known as Palazzo Baronale, but soon squandered their fortunes and the feud was sold to the Cortese family in the seventeenth century.
This was a very difficult period due to the struggles with gangs and the earthquakes of 1638 and 1640.
Also for the church the period was difficult: Protestantism and therefore the subsequent Council of Trent changed the relationship between the priests and the faithful who wanted more attention to their problems. In 1565 Archbishop Carlo Bovio decided to visit all the towns of the diocese, and therefore also Cellino San Marco, and here he found a very interesting situation. In fact, the archpriest didn’t know how to read, and he seemed to have paid for that role, while some of his subordinate priests were able to read and write and deserved a promotion. The archpriest brought order back into the hierarchy, restoring the right meritocracy.
Also for the Cortese family the ‘rule’ that the third generation squanders the patrimony was fulfilled, and they were overwhelmed with debts and had to sell Cellino San Marco which was bought by the Chyurlia family. They had possible oriental origins, perhaps Greek, so that its members were Hierosolimitan knights of Terra d’Otranto, and since the XIII century they had settled in Bari and ruled with the title of ‘count’.
The conditions must not have been very favourable if in 1742 the population rebelled to have a better life and less taxes. The rioters were imprisoned in the castle and things soon returned to feudal life.
The story changed with the arrival of Napoleon who erased feudalism with a law of 1806 and one of 1809 that erased tithes. The Chyurlias tried to sue to maintain their privileges but lost before the feudal commission.
In fact, after Napoleon the Bourbons did not re-establish the feudal laws being very happy to have got rid of a class of parasitic nobles with little attention to the conditions of the people.
During the Risorgimento period, Cellino San Marco was one of the centres of the Carbonari (brought by the French) and of the Giovine Italia (Young Italy) that tried to create a climate favourable to the Italian unity. At Cellino a nucleus of revolutionaries was established called ‘La Plebe al Monte Sacro’, in an analogy to the struggle of the Roman plebeians against the patricians in 494 BC. The way in which the unification occurred had generated discontent in the population that in some cases had turned to brigandage (banditry). A phenomenon which, taken individually, appears to be criminal, but taken collectively, it appears as a political-social movement and in fact the Piedmontese behaved not so much as liberators who brought justice but rather as occupiers.
During the Second World War this part of Salento played an important role and after the armistice Brindisi was the capital of Italy from 10 September 1943 to 11 February 1944.
Cellino San Marco has become famous throughout Italy for having given birth to the singer at Bano Carrisi who, with his wife Romina Power, are known throughout the world and their songs have entered Italian musical history as well as in many other countries.
Cellino is also known everywhere for the quality of its wine and its oil and for the Carrisiland amusement park which attracts tourists all summer.