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A Pearl on the Roof of the World – Potala Palace: Tibet, China

A Pearl on the Roof of the World – Potala Palace: Tibet, China

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The Potala Palace which is an administrative, religious and political complex is built on the Red Mountain in the centre of the Lhasa valley at an altitude of 3700 metres. It is named after MountPotalaka. The complex comprises of the WhitePalace and the RedPalace, with their ancillary buildings. The Potala, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century A.D., is the symbol of Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration in Tibet. The beauty and originality of its architecture and its cultural decoration adds to its historic and religious interest. The Palace covers an area of 130,000 square meters and stands more than 110 metres high. Because of its huge scale and magnitude, it is known as “A Pearl on the Roof of the World”. It is one of China’s most renowned ancient buildings. Now, Potala is a transliteration of Sanskrit language. Potala Place has been the site for Dalai Lamas to live and carry out political and religious activities. Viewed as a whole, the palace seems to sit high in the mid air surrounded by a steep cliffs and high clouds, just like a flying castle with a spectacular magnitude.


As per historical records, construction of Potala Palace began in the time of Slon-Brtsan-Sgam-Po of the Thubet in the 7th century. It was called Red Mountain Palace at that time which was a massive complex which was composed of three outer city walls and 1,000 rooms. It was political center of the Tubo Dynasty. In 17th century, the 5th  Dalai Lama decided to rebuild Potala Palace on the Red Mountain. By 1934, Potala Palace grew to a scale as we see today.


The Composition


Potala Palace is composed of palace halls, Buddha Halls and pagoda halls. According to their functions of use, its buildings can be roughly divided into the White Palace, the Red Palace and other buildings.

The White Palace


The White Palace is the site for Dalai Lama to carry out political and religious activities. The palace got its name because of its white walls. There is a zigzag slope road in front of the Palace. Along side this road; there is an eastern platform on a vast level square in front of the main gate of the palace. The platform has a surface of more than 1,500 metres. The East Main Hall forms the central part of the White Palace. All major ceremonies including the inaugural ceremony of Dalai Lama are held here. The throne of Dalai Lama is located on the north side of the hall. At the top floor of the White Palace is the bedroom of the Dalai Lama. This set of buildings is made up of an audience hall, a sutra and Dharma Hall.

The Red Palace


buddha hall red palace

The Red Palace is to the west of the White Palace. It is so called because its walls are painted red. It is located in the center of Potala Palace and center Red Mountain. The red Palace is designed to house pagodas holding the remains of Dalai Lama of each generations and it also has many Buddha and sutra halls.

The Holy Rooms

 holy rooms

There are more than 1,000 rooms in the Potala. Chogyal Drubphuk and the Phakpa Lhakhang are two rooms are considered as most holy of all the rooms. These rooms were kept as it is from the original palace of Srong-Brtsan-Sgam-Po. Phakpa Lhakhang houses the sacred Arya Lokeshvara statue. There are more than 200,000 statues and 10.000 altars are located within the sacred complex.

holy room

There is the Saint’s Chapel, the most holy of the Potala’s chapels. It is also the oldest part of the palace. Beneath the chapel is the Dharma Cave, believed to be the study retreat of the King Songtsen Gampo where he studies Buddhism.


sculptures  sculpturess 

There is a large and important series of sculptures in stone, wood, clay and metal in the Potala Palace, many from India, Nepal, Kashmir and elsewhere. They vary in height from over 10m to a few millimeters and many of them are gilded. Other treasures there are Tibetan carpets, kadian, sutra streamers, canopies, curtains, porcelain, jade, and fine objects of gold and silver, as well as a large collection of sutras and important historical documents. These collections not only are of great artistic value, but also tell the long history of the friendly contacts and cultural exchanges between the Tibetan and the Han people for more than 1,000 years. They also form a strong proof that Tibet is an inseparable part of Chinese territory.


No doubt, The Potala Palace is the largest and the most complete ancient palace architectures in Tibet. Every stone, sculpture, metal smelting etc, all prove the hard work and wisdom of the Tibetan people in ancient times and the great achievements in Tibetan architectural art. It is included in the World Heritage List in 1994 as it meets all the standards and conditions. Literally no visit to Tibet can be complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous and immediately recognizable buildings. Ciao.

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