Visit Tibet: Roof of the World
Potala Palace features the symbolic architecture of Tibet including many towers, houses, and chapels and is by far the greatest structure in all of Tibet. Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and Norbulingka are all designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Situated to the side of Red Hill and the Lhasa River, the Potala Palace is the highest palace in the world, reaching at an astounding 12,139 feet into the sky, over two miles high! The palace itself stands about 300 feet above the city of Lhasa. The huge complex has massive 16-foot walls at its base, and even had molten copper poured into the foundation to help protect it against possible earthquakes. Perfectly preserving Tibetan culture, the palace is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Tibet. The Tibetans themselves, however, most often only refer to the palace as “Peak Potala” (Tse Potala) or simply “The Peak.”
Named after nearby Mount Potalaka, the palace dates back more than 1,300 years and has been through several renovations over the centuries. Originally built in the 7th century, the palace initially served Songtsen Gampo, the founder of the Tibetan Empire who likely brought Buddhism to Tibet, and his two wives, Princess Wencheng of the Tang Empire and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal.
When the Bubo Kingdom fell, the palace was almost ruined by constant wars. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the most significant reconstruction of the palace began. The Fifth Dalai Lama began to rebuild the critical Potala Palace, receiving help from the Qing Empire. The tedious work took many years, and finally, the Fifth Dalai Lama moved the government capital from Drepung Monastery to Potala. This made the palace the center of both politics and Buddhism in Tibet. Since then, several smaller reconstructions have taken place; however, the main body of the palace has remained intact.
What not to miss at the Potala Palace:
- Architecture – The palace was built using wood and stones and has 13 stories containing more than 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines, and roughly 200,000 statues. The roof features beautiful wood carvings relating the tenets of Buddhism to viewers, many of whom could not read Buddhist texts long ago. Divided into two parts, the White Palace was the living quarters for the Dalai Lama and handled both political and Buddhist affairs. The Red Palace is the main building and features different Buddhist chapels, halls and libraries.
- Artwork – The palace is a treasure trove of unique artwork and contains 698 murals and Tangkas, which tell us about historical Tibetan events.
- Religious Treasures – As one of the holiest buildings for Tibetan Buddhism, it houses many stupas, or dome-shaped shrines, of past Dalai Lamas. There are also statues, clay sculptures, stone inscriptions, wood carvings and metal statutes. You will no doubt run into one of the thousands of pilgrims the palace draws every single day!
If you’re interested in exploring the epicenter of Buddhism, see our list of available tours.