Straddling its huge rock, towering over Tibet's capital of Lhasa, the Potala Palace is one of the world's most iconic buildings and is a symbol for Tibet itself. Sitting at an altitude of 3,700 metres, the 119 metres tall, with over one thousand rooms on thirteen floors, it is the highest ancient palace in the world.
The site has been used as a palace since the year 637 when King Songtsen Gampo built a palace to celebrate his marriage to China's Tang Dynasty Princess Wen Cheng.
The current palace was mainly constructed between 1645 and 1694 by the Fifth Dalai Lama as both his winter palace and the centre of Tibet's government. It was for many years thereafter the home to successive Dalai Lamas and has been enlarged and renovated many times. Today, the place is a museum and protected by being included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Potala Palace is, in fact, two palaces in one. The White Palace, or Potrang Karpo, was the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas and his retinue. It was also the secular centre for the Tibetan government and contains offices and a printing room.
The central part of the Potala is the Red Palace or Potrang Marpo. This was devoted to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism and contains many halls, chapels and libraries, all linked by a maze of winding dark passageways. It also is the final resting place of eight of the Dalai Lamas, including the Fifth, who built the palace.
Here you can find the Saint's Chapel, the most holy of the Potala's chapels. It is also the oldest part of the palace, dating back to the seventh century. Beneath the chapel is the Dharma Cave, believed to be the study retreat of King Songtsen Gampo where he studied Buddhism.
The North, South, East and West Chapels contain many priceless statues, religious artefacts and important scriptures. The West Chapel is the resting place of the Fifth Dalai Lama, whose mummified body is in a 14.85 metre high, sandalwood stupa, covered in 3,727 kg of solid gold and studded by over 18,000 pearls and other precious stones.
The Great West Hall is the centrepiece of the Red Palace and bears a number of murals depicting scenes from the life of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The most famous shows his visit to Emperor Shun Zhi in Beijing.
Besides the two palaces there is a large square known as Deyanshan, or "Eastern Celebration Square". This yellow painted square was used for religious ceremonies and gatherings. From here there are three entrances to the White Palace. The central door was for the exclusive use of the Dalai Lama. Other buildings within the palace complex include the Buddhist College or Zhacang, Buddhist schools and lodging houses, etc.
In order to help protect the Potala and its treasures, and to make a visit more pleasurable, daily admissions to the palace are limited to 2300 tickets.
Certainly no visit to Lhasa or Tibet can be complete without a visit to one of the world's most famous, important and immediately recognisable buildings.
Interested in this site? Just take a Tibet tour with Access Tibet Tour to see it!
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