Tibet religious architectures fall into two main types: temples, which are used for religious ceremonies and worship; and stupas, which are reliquaries and symbols.
With the spread of Buddhism, Tibet monastery and temple architecture had developed rapidly and became the main body of Tibetan ancient architecture. As a lot of financial and material resources were spent in the monastery constructions, these buildings are the best reflection of the achievements of Tibetan architecture.
According to historical records, during the Tibetan Empire, Srongtsen Gampo had built large Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple and 108 temples, these religious buildings could not be called for the monastery yet. Samye Monastery was built in 779 A.D by Trisong Detsen with officially ordained monks, marking the birth of the first temple in Tibet. During 10-13 century AD, Buddhism revival on the land after the suppression of Buddhism, Tholin, Sakya, Chubu and other big monasteries had emerged one by one. In 1409, Yellow Sect-Gelug first built Gandan Monastery and 15th centuries Drepung, Sera, Tashi Columbus Monasteries had been built, reflecting the heyday of temple architecture. According to the Shengwuji records, up to the eleven years of Emperor Yongzheng, there were 3477 Yellow Sect monasteries and amounted 31.6 million Lamas.
The cultural revolution in China led to the degradation or loss of Buddhist temples, whether intentionally damaged or lack of protection and maintenance. Starting in the 1980s, Tibetans began to restore or rebuild damaged temples and revive monastic traditions.
Tibetan monasteries are generally very large, such as Drepung Monastery located in the western suburbs of Lhasa. The architectures of monastery are rolling, row upon row, spectacular, much like a mountain. The monasteries are both venues for religious activities, and a region's political, economic and cultural center.
Since monasteries in Tibetan society have a special status that makes it has many features in the building.
1. A monastery is usually similar to a Buddhist College. Except for religious activities, studying Buddhism is also a key activity in the monastery. Drepung Monastery has teaching, teaching instrument, educational administration and chores, the four parts, and three exoteric colleges and a tantric college, which named dratsang in Tibetan language. The dratsang architecture consists of scripture hall, Buddha hall and frontcourt. It also has debating area, kitchen.
2. Except for study Buddhism, the monasteries also have language, character, poetry, medicine, and astronomy and calendar education. Mindroling Monastery in Shannan is the monastery mainly focusing on medicine. The colleges are the same as others. The monasteries also have special workshop, such as the block printing house of Dege Temple in Sichuan. Under the Potala Palace, there are 2 block printing houses and one manufacturing workshop of Buddha’s statues and decorations.
3. Many monasteries and temples have executive functions. Tibet monasteries have independent economy and occupy manors. Drepung Monastery occupies 185 manors, 51,000 acres of arable land, over 300 pieces of pasture, two thousand slaves of agriculture, animal husbandry. 40% of the total possession of Tibet was owned by temples. Thus, in addition to participating local authorities outside, the temple also ruled the monastery's jurisdiction.
Tibetan Monasteries and temples usually take Cuoqing Hall and Dratsang as the center. The layout of the architectural complex is flexible and freedom. Cuoqin Hall is the activity center of the hall monastery. The doctrine, discipline and thoughts of Buddhism has decisive effect on the whole design of the monastery.