The San Giovanni degli Eremiti church dates back to the 6th century. After the establishment of the Norman domination of southern Italy, it was returned to the Christians by Roger II of Sicily who, around 1136, entrusted it to the Benedictine monks of Saint William of Vercelli.
The church was extensively modified during the following centuries. A restoration held around 1880 attempted to restore its original medieval appearance.
The church is notable for its brilliant red domes, which show clearly the persistence of Arab influences in Sicily at the time of its reconstruction in the 12th century, the Arab-Norman culture. However, the red colour of the domes are not original, as they were restored in the present way at the end of the nineteenth century by an architect who found pieces of red plaster on the domes and therefore decided to paint all the domes in red.
The church lies with a flank on a square construction. The church is on the Latin Cross plan with a nave and two aisles and three apses. Each of the square spans is surmounted by a dome. The presbytery, ending with a niche, has also a dome.
The cloister, enriched by a luxurious garden, is the best preserved part of the ancient monastery. It has notable small double columns with capitals decorated by vegetable motifs, which support ogival arches. It also includes an Arab cistern.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.