The Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is the symbol of Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet. Situated on Red Hill in northwest of the city, the Potala Palace was originally built as the residence for the marriage of Emperor Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wenchang in Tang Dynasty. The palace was destroyed twice in its history. In 1645, it was rebuilt and expanded by Dalai Lama V. The entire project took about half a century to complete.

The main architecture of the Potala Palace is composed of two parts: Places used by the Dalai Lama as his living chambers and for political activities; and holy stupas of the successive generations of Dalai Lamas and various Buddhist halls.

The first part is the White Palace, built in 1645-1653. It has seven stories. The fourth story is the Coqenxag or the Eastern Hall, covers an area of 717 square meters and is propped up by 38 large pillars. The fifth and sixth stories were used as the offices and living chambers of the Prince Regent. The seventh story was the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lama.  The hall is furnished with gold basins, jade bowls, Buddhist paintings and many other treasures, accentuating the high position of the occupant. Outside the Sunlight Hall is a spacious balcony offering a bird’s-eye view of the whole of Lhasa. In the distance are undulating mountain ranges, the beautiful Lhasa River, tracts of fields, tree-shaded villages and the glistening Jokhang Monastery.

The second part is the Red Palace, occupies an area of 10,000 square meters, where the statues of Songtsan Gambor, Princess Wencheng and some thousands of Buddhist figures are placed for worship. When the Red Palace was built in 1690, the Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi recruited 100 artisans of the Han, Manchu and Mongolian nationalities to take part in the construction. The majority of the Red Palace is taken up with various Buddhist halls and eight holy stupas containing the remains of the Dalai Lamas. The holy stupa for the 5th Dalai Lama is wrapped inside 110,000 taels of gold sheet and inlaid with 18,677 pearls and pieces of gems, coral, amber and agate. Sixipuncog, or the Western hall, is the largest hall in the Red Palace.

The hall covers 725 square meters, and holds a plaque bearing an inscription by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. Inside the hall is the holy throne of the Dalai Lama and a pair of colored silk curtains granted by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. The Three-World Hall, which is the highest in the Red Palace, holds the Beijing-edition Dangyur which Emperor Yongzhen of the Qing Dynasty presented to the 7th Lalai Lama. The westernmost section of the Red Palace is the Hall of the Holy Stupa for the 13th Dalai Lama, built in 1933-1935. The hall, 14 meters high, contains a Mandala said to be made of 200,000 pearls.

It is a sacred place for Tibetan Buddhism, the hall and corridors inside are decorated with master paintings, which are concerning Buddhist teachings and stories. The Red Palace displays the artistic statues of Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wenchang, as well as 1000 Buddhist images. In 1994, the Potala Palace has been listed by UNESCO as the World Cultural Heritage.

Delta Wang is a Travel Expert working for Absolute China Tours ltd, a CNTA-approved China Travel Agency. Find more travel information about Chinese cities in our China Travel Guide. You can also find more travel tips about Tibet in our Tibet Travel information page.