One of the finest example of Berber architecture is “Qasr Al Haj”, located on the Tripoli-‘Aziziya-Al Jawf route in Libya about 130 km from Tripoli. Built with bricks and clay, this circular earth-colored building is featureless from the outside, with a door that leads to the large courtyard inside. Surrounding the courtyard are rows of small windows arranged in three stories that looks like open catacombs stacked one on top of another, or a fortified village at best.
Qasr is an Arabic word for “castle,” and haj meant a pilgrimage. The haj is the annual pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims to Mecca, a trip that ideally has to be done by all Muslims at least once in their lifetime. During the 12th century, the Qasr Al Haj was a place where pilgrims who went on the haj stored their things before they went, like modern airport locker rooms or bank vaults, so they won’t be weighed down with too many things during their trip.
Qasr Al Haj was later used as communal granary and olive oil storage rooms, for villagers who did not have enough space at home to store these staples. The building originally comprised of 114 chambers, that corresponded to the number of chapters in the holy Koran. Each family had a space in that Qasr where they could keep food and grains for safe keeping. The qasr was in use even as late as the 1960s.
The Qasr al-Haj is arguably the most stunning piece of Berber architecture in Libya. Other than its name suggests (literally translated: Fortress of al-Haj), the structure is neither a fortress, nor a fortified village. The building is a storage facility, created to store the harvests of the semi-nomadic and partly settled people of the region.