The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
It is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
The first recorded use of the site dates from the 7th century AD, when King Songtsen Gampo built a palace here.
Construction of the present structure began during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, in 1645 and took divisions of labourers and artisans more than 50 years to complete.
The 13th Dalai Lama extended Potala Palace to the present size.
The complex, comprising the White and Red Palaces with their ancillary buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the center of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700 meters (12,100 feet).
The palace measures 400 meters (1312 feet) east-west and 350 meters (1148 feet) north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 meters (6.5 feet) thick, and 5 meters (16.5 feet) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes.
Thirteen stories of buildings — containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues — soar 117 meters (384 feet) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) in total above the valley floor.
With over 130,000 square meters (1,399,308 square feet) of floor space, is one of the largest palaces in the world by floor area.
The White Palace or Potrang Karpo is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The White Palace also contained offices, the seminary for training Tibetan government officials and the printing house.
On the photo below is the former quarters of the Dalai Lama. The figure in the throne represents Tenzin Gyatso, the incumbent Dalai Lama.
The Red Palace or Potrang Marpo is part of the Potala palace that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. It consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages. It is richly decorated with painting, jewelled work, carving and other ornament.
The Red Palace also contains the sacred gold stupas — the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas.[Stupa of the 13th Dalai Lama is on the photo below].
The golden roof group is a unique view of the Potala Palace. It’s on the top of the Red Palace, composed of seven roofs made of gilded bronze. They are the tops of the holy stupas of the Dalai Lamas.
Statues of Buddha, murals, and antiques that are centuries old, and incredible works of art grace every area of this mountaintop palace.
The beautiful murals inside the palace are not only attractive, but also tell many stories of the Dalai Lamas and the history of the Tibetan people, and depict different customs and traditions held dear in this beautiful part of the world.
The most important shrine in the Potala is the Saint’s Chapel in the Red Palace, which contains a revered statue of Avalokiteshvara and his two attendants. Below the Saint’s Chapel is the Dharma Cave, where King Songtsen Gampo studied the Buddhist scriptures after his conversion in the 7th century. These rooms are the oldest part of the Potala Palace.
The Chapel of Kalachakra has a stunning gilt-copper three-dimensional mandala, 6.2 meters (20.3 feet) in diameter, and finely detailed with over 170 statues.
In 1959, the current Dalai Lama fled to India amid riots against the Chinese military occupation of Tibet; he remains in exile today. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-77), the remaining monks were expelled and the abandoned palace was looted and damaged by Chinese soldiers.
Today, only a few monks are allowed to occupy the Potala Palace under strict supervision and Tibetan pilgrims are not generally admitted to the shrines. The Chinese government operates the palace as a state museum and has recently renovated the building to attract foreign tourists.
Tradition has it that the three main hills of Lhasa represent the “Three Protectors of Tibet“. Chokpori, just to the south of the Potala, is the soul-mountain of Vajrapani, Pongwari that of Manjusri, and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Avalokiteśvara.
Potala Palace is one of the holiest buildings of Tibetan Buddhism.
It is the highest ancient palace in the world.
The palace was named by the American television show Good Morning America and newspaper USA Today as one of the “New Seven Wonders”.
The number of visitors to the palace was restricted to 1,600 a day, with opening hours reduced to six hours daily to avoid over-crowding from 1 May 2003. The palace was receiving an average of 1,500 a day prior to the introduction of the quota, sometimes peaking to over 5,000 in one day.