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This ancient architectural complex is considered a model of Tibetan architecture. Located on the Red Hill in Lhasa, Tibet, it is 3,700 meters above sea level and covers an area of over 360,000 square meters, measuring 360 meters from east to west and 270 meters from south to north. The palace has 13 stories, and is 117 meters high.Mainly comprised by the White Palace (administerial building) and the Red Palace (religious building), Potala Palace is famous for its grand buildings, complicated constructions, devotional atmosphere and splendid artworks.
In 641, Songtsan Gambo, ruler of the Tubo Kingdom, had the Potala Palace built for Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty, whom he was soon to marry. This structure was later burned to the ground during a war and was rebuilt in the 17th century by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Repeated repairs and expansions until 1645 finally brought the palace to its present scale. Over the past three centuries, the palace gradually became a place where the Dalai Lama lived and worked and a place for keeping the remains of successive Dalai Lama.
Upon entering the East Portal, visitors will come into the Deyang Shar courtyard where Dalai Lamas watched Tibetan opera. West of the courtyard is the White Palace. As the winter palace of Dalai Lamas, the White Palace is a seven-floor building originally built in 1645. The wall of the palace was painted to white to convey peace and quiet. The Great East Hall on the fourth floor is the largest hall in White Palace, occupying a space of 717 sq meters (about 7,718 sq ft). This hall was also the site for holding momentous religious and political events. The living quarters and offices of regents are on the fifth and sixth floors and while the top floor consists of the East Chamber of Sunshine and the West Chamber of Sunshine. Because of the sunshine in the chambers all year round, the East and West Chamber were the places where Dalai Lamas lived, worked and studied. The furnishings are sumptuousness and comfortable, revealing the dignity of Dalai Lamas. Standing on the spacious balcony, visitors can look down on beautiful Lhasa.
In the middle of the Potala Palace the Red Palace exists. Built in 1690 after the death of the Fifth Dailai Lama, the wall of the palace was painted to red, representing stateliness and power. The Red Palace is renowned for its religious status, gorgeous stupas and precious culture relics. The Great West Hall in the middle is the largest hall of Potala Palace with an area of 725 sq meters (about 7,804 sq ft). Beautiful murals painted on inner walls described the glory and power of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and the corridor upstairs is also painted by many religious murals such as the figures of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Dalai Lamas; the genetic stories of Buddhism; the historical events such as marrying Princess Wencheng and building Jokhang Temple. One of the most famous murals described the Fifth Dalai Lama's visit to Emperor Shunzhi in Beijing in1652. There are another three chapels around the Great West Hall. The North Chapel is dedicated to Sakyamuni, Dalai Lamas, Buddhas of Three Generations and Medicine Buddha. The stupa-tombs of the Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Dalai Lama are also situated here. Besides, Visitors can also find a volume of Kanjur (Beijing Edition) donated by Emperor Yongzheng on the bookshelf. The East Chapel is consecrate to Tsong Khapa, founder of the Yellow Hat Sect. His two-meter-high (6.56 ft) figure is surrounded by other 70 statues of famous lamas. The South Chapel is dedicated to Padmasambhava, a famous Indian monk who introduced Esoteric Buddhism to Tibet in eighth century. To the west of the Great West Hall is the Stupa Chapel where the stupa-tombs of the Fifth, the Tenth and the Twelfth Dalai Lamas are situated in. With a height of 14.85 meters (about 48.72 ft), covered by more than 3,000 kilograms (about 6,613pounds) gold foil and decorated with thousands of pearls, gems, corals, ambers and agates, the Fifth Dalai Lama's stupa-tomb is regarded to be the highest and the most luxury one. The Three-world Hall, which is located on the highest point of Potala Palace, is the holy shrine of Chinese Emperors. It was built in 1690 and Dalai Lamas used to come here to show their respect to the central government every year.
Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel in the middle of the Red Palace are the only two constructions preserved since the seventh century. Dharma Cave was the place where King Songtsen Gampo studied Buddhism. The statues of King Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, and Princess Bhrikuti were built in the seventh century. The Saint's Chapel on the third floor worships Chenrezi, the bodhisattva of compassion. The statue of Chenrezi is surrounded by statues of Tsong Khapa, Padmasambhava, the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Dalai Lamas.
The thirteenth Dalai Lama died in 1933, and people believed that he was as great as the Fifth Dalai Lama. So his stupa chapel to the west of the Great West Hall is only 0.86 meters (2.82 ft) lower than the Fifth Dalai Lama's. It was built in 1934, so it's the latest building in Potala Palace. Murals inside also illustrated the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. The precious complete volumes of Kanjur have also been preserved in the chapel.
There are also many other constructions in Potala Palace which include: the School of Buddist 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, thangkas, and rare sutras. Potala Palace is indeed a must-see for both visitors and researchers.
Potala Palace -- Tips
According to the local custom, you have to tour clockwise around; don't step on the doorsill; don't smoke in the halls; don't take photos without permission!
It is not easy for visitors to climb to the top building because of its height, so you'd better slow down. Because the halls are always chilly; you'd better take a coat while visiting.