Vassallaggi is a Sicilian prehistoric Bronze Age archaeological site which had a later flourishing after the 7th century BC as a phrourion (fortress). The site is located in the middle of the Salso river valley, at 704 m above sea level, in a strategic location for communication between the southern coast of Sicily and the northern part of the island.
The site first developed in the Bronze Age (18th-14th centuries BC), from which time some cave tombs of the Castelluccio culture survive and a circular hut with furniture. The most ancient inhabitants of Vassallaggi were presumably the Sicans.
No finds have come to light from the middle and late Bronze Age, so these hills may have been abandoned at that time; this might be a result of emigration towards the coast from the middle Bronze Age and then as a result of the preference for more defensible sites in face of the arrival of the Sicels (which might have taken the form of an invasion). Thus the site was unoccupied for about 700 years, before a Sican settlement developed here in the 8th century BC.
This new habitation during the Iron Age continued until Greek occupation of the site in the 5th century, when the village seems to have been fortified and to have developed within the sphere of Akragas.
After the foundation of that city by Gela (most powerful of the Dorian colonies founded in the 7th century BC), a period of expansion of Greek origin people began which led to the colonisation of central Sicily, using the natural route along the Himera river valley (the modern Salso). The expansion into inland Sicily may be explained by the demographic pressure on the Greek communities of the motherland and the other Greek colonies. The need to augment agricultural production and open new markets for manufactured goods may also have been a causal factor.
The site of Vassallaggi, however, based on archaeological evidence, was only conquered and colonised by Greeks from Akragas in the 6th century BC, unlike nearby sites, like Sabucina, Capodarso and Gibil Gabib which were colonised by Gela, as shown by the proto-Corinthian style pottery found there, which is never found at Vassallaggi.
The most important discoveries in the rich necropolis, both in terms of quantity and quality of items recovered, derive from this period. They include ceramic sarcophagi, one of which is perfectly preserved, locally-made vases, pottery from other Greek areas, bronze knives, spears and strigils, as well as coins. A temple for the worship of a female deity was built at this time.
The absence of concrete evidence makes it difficult to attribute any known ancient place name to the location. It has been suggested that the site is Motyon, the first fortified centre in the Acragantine area. The city was inexplicably abandoned around 320 BC. There are no traces of objects after this date.
From the Roman period, traces of small nucleated settlements are found in the valley and the surrounding territory, including especially important routes to Akragas. Christian tombs, dating to the 5th century AD have been found, near the prehistoric caves.
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.