Potala Palace

Originally built by King Songtsen Gampo in the seventh century, Potala Palace is located on the Red Hill of Lhasa. The awe-inspiring Potala Palace, perched high above much of Lhasa, is the landmark of the city.
Destroyed by lightning and war, Patala Palace had been rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1645 and since then, it has become the seat of Dalai Lamas and also the political center of Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama extended Potala Palace to the present size-117 meters in height and 360 meters in width, covering an area of more than 130,000 square meters. Mainly comprised by the White Palace, the administrative building, and the Red Palace, religious building, Potala Palace is famous for its grand buildings, complicated constructions, devotional atmosphere and splendid artworks.

History of Potala Palace

Since the 7th Century, Srongtsen Gampo moved the capital to Lhasa and started the construction of Potala Palace He set up the administrative areas, officer system and laws. He also sent ambassadors to surrounding countries or set affinity with neighboring countries, to strengthen the communication of economy and culture between the surrounding countries and finally promoted the prosperous of the Tubo Society. Potala Palace was the political center of Tubo Kingdom during that time.

Potala is the transliteration of Sanskrit “Potalaka” which means “Buddhist Holy Land”. In 641, Srongtsen Gampo built palace on Maburi Mountain or Red Mountain for marrying Princess Wencheng. Srongtsen Gampo made Arya Avalokiteshvara the statue of the Palace and named the palace Potala as it is the place where Arya Avalokiteshvara lives in. There used to be one thousand of rooms in the palace. In the period of Trisong Detsen, a part of the palace was burned down. Later the tubo dynasty perished and the Potala Palace was almost all destroyed and just 2 Buddhist Prayer Rooms were left. The political center of Tibet moved to Sakya and Potala Palace remained in the ruined state.

In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama, Lukhang Lobsang Gyatso, built Ge Dan Bo Zhang Regime and Lhasa became the political center of Tibet again. In 1645, he started to rebuild the Potala Palace, which is the White Palace you can see today. In 1653, the Fifth Dalai Lama began to live in the palace. Since then, Dalai Lamas were all lived here. Important religious and political ceremonies were all hold in the palace. Potala Palace became the center of the region's former theocracy. After the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama, for Dalai's Stupa, the palace continuous the expansion and formed the Red Palace. When built the Red Palace, Qing Government and Nepal Government also sent craftsmen to help the construction. There were over 7700 workers for building the Red Palace each day. The whole construction Potala Palace were complished in 1693, lasting for 48 years and costing 2,130,000 liang Silver.

Potala Palace were renovated and expended for many times and formed the palace you see today. In 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama left Tibet, and then, Potala Palace was not the political Palace any more, but just retained the function of religion. From 1989 to 1994, the nation invested 55,000,000 CNY and reinforced and maintained the palace for the first time. In 2002, the government invested 170,000,000 CNY and maintained the palace again. The palace’s main architectures are the Red Palace, White Palace and all together 17 spots were finished the renovation. In 1961, the palace was published as one of the first batch of national key cultural relics protection units. In 1994, it was listed as world cultural heritage.

Structure of Potala Palace
The stone-and-wood-structured Potala Palace consists of the White Palace and Red Palace. The White Palace, comprising halls, temples and courtyards, serves as the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The Red Palace includes various chambers for worshipping Buddha and chambers housing the eight stupa that contain the remains of fifth through thirteenth Dalai Lama. All the stupas are covered with gold foil. The most magnificent stupa belongs to the fifth Dalai Lama. It is 14.85 meters tall and inlaid with pearl and jade. The palace also collected a large number of sculptures, murals, scripture and other valuable cultural relics.

• White Palace

White Palace is the Winter Palace of Dalai Lama. It is used to be the administrative body of Tibetan Government. The Place has 7 layers. The White Palace is located under the Red Palace and connecting with Zhasha. Zhasha is located at the west part of Red Palace, and is the living room for lamas serving in the palace. It used to have 25000 lamas living in it. As the outside wall is also white, it usually considered as a part of the White Palace. 

The top layer it the Dalai Lama’s bedroom “Sunshine Hall”. Some of the rooms in the hall are open to let sunshine shooting in, and covered with tarpaulin at night. Sunshine Hall can be divided in to east and west part. The west Sunshine Hall is the original one while the east sunshine was imitated the west one. They were respectively the bedroom of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama and also the place for them to handle fairs. With rigid hierarchies, only top monks or officials were allowed to get into the hall. There are worship hall, scripture hall, bedrooms and other rooms in the hall which are all decorated very luxury.

The five and six layers are the rooms for living and work. The Dongyoujiyuanman Hall on the middle of the 4th floor, with an area of 717 square meters, is the largest hall in Potala Palace. It is the hall for holding the enthronement of Dalai Lama, leading ceremony and other religious and political activities. Outside the White Palace there is way in the “Z” shape. A broad square named Deyangsha,at east hillside is the place for Dalai Lama to watch drama or holding outdoor activities. At the south and north part of the square, there are monk officials’ school and other architectures. 

• Red Palace

Red Palace is at the center of the Potala Palace. The outside wall of it is red. It was designed in mandala layout. Around the Dalai's Stupas there are many scripture halls and Buddha halls, and connecting with the White Palace. On the roof deck of the Red Palace, there are full of the golden rooftop of each hall. The roofs are single eaves Xieshan type with gilding bronze tiles. On the top, there are 3 golden pagodas. The Gold treasure house and red color prayer flags embody the strong Tibetan Style. Shangjiexingsheng Hall is the highest hall in possession of lots of Buddhist sutras and portraits of Qing Dynasty emperors.

The main architectures of the Potala Palace are the 5 Dalai Lamas’ Stupa Halls respectively belongs to the fifth, seventh, eighth, ninth and thirteenth Dalai Lamas. Each Halls is in the same layout, but not the same size. The largest one is the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Stupa Hall, which is 3 layers high and support by 16 big square columns with the stupa of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the middle of it. Beside it, there are the Tenth Dalai Lama and the Twelfth Dalai’s stupas. The Lailingta Hall of the Fifth Dalai’s Xiangtangxi Hall is the largest hall of the Red Palace, which is 6 m high and covers 725.7 square meters. In the hall, there is a horizontal inscribed board with the words written by Qiang Long Emperor. There are 698 murals in the hall, which mostly are about the life of the Fifth Dalai. At the west part is the Stupa Hall of the Thirteenth Dalai; it is latest architecture in the Potala Palace built in 1936. The scale of this hall can be compared with the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Stupa Hall. Except for the stupa, there is a silver statue of the Thirteenth Dalai.
There are also many other constructions in Potala Palace which include: the school of Buddhist Logic, the Seminary, the printing house, gardens, courtyards and even the Jail. For more than 300 years, Potala Palace has treasured many culture relics such as murals, stupas, statues, tangkas, and rare sutras. Potala Palace is indeed a must see in Lhasa.

Potala Palace Travel Guide

• Location: No. 35, Gongqian Alley, Beijing Zhong Road, Chengguan District, Lhasa
• Highlights: The highest palace in the World; In 1994, the Potala Palace was listed as world cultural heritage
• Time for a Visit: 1 hr for one visit
• Opening hours: March to October
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