Why is The Potala Palace special?
Originally built in 640AD during the reign of King Songtsan Gampo, the Potala, the Sacred Place of Buddhism, rises in red, white, and gold splendor high above the city of Lhasa, dominating the landscape and watching over every aspect of local life.
The Potala Palace Highlights
Today the Potala Palace is a state museum, a popular tourist attraction, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also recently named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World" by the television show Good Morning America and the newspaper USA Today.
The palace is fronted by a great plaza at the south base of the rock, enclosed by walls and gates. A series of fairly easy staircases, broken by intervals of gentle ascent, leads to the summit of the rock.
The Potala rises 13 stories into the air and stretches nearly 350m across the hillside from east to west. The entire building is made of stone and wood, with walls averaging 3 meters thick. It has over 1,000 rooms, housing 10,000 alters and 200,000 Buddhist statues.
The Potala Palace is made of two main parts, easily distinguished by their color: the Red Palace and White Palace.
The heart of the complex is the Red Palace (Potrang Marpo), painted a deep red and used primarily for religious purposes. Richly decorated with painting, jeweled work, carving and other ornament, it contains several shrines and the tombs of eight past Dalai Lamas.
The Red Palace also houses the monks' assembly hall, numerous chapels and shrines (dedicated to the full extent of Tibet's pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints and demons) and libraries of important Tibetan Buddhist scriptures (the Kangyur in 108 volumes and the Tengyur in 225, all hand-painted from carved wooden blocks).
Surrounding the Red Palace is the secular White Palace (Potrang Karpo), the former home of the Dalai Lama and his monks. In addition to monastic living quarters, the White Palace contained offices, the seminary for training Tibetan government officials and the printing house.
The most important shrine in the Potala is the Saint's Chapel in the White Palace, which contains a revered statue of Chenrezi, bodhisattva of compassion. 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.