The Potala Palace is situated on the top of the Red Hill in central Lhasa, at an altitude of over 3,700 metres it rises over 100 metres. The Palace was built by the King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet in 637AD over a sacred cave as a palace for his bride the Princess Wen Cheng of China. Consisting of 9-storeys it was said to have had a thousand rooms. With the collapse of the Songtsen Gampo Dynasty, and the subsequent wars the palace was severely damaged. Construction of the present palace began in 1645 during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama and by 1648 the Potrang Karpo, or White Palace, was completed. It was at this time that it became the Dalai Lamas main residence and the centre for political and religious affairs in Tibet though later became his Winter Palace. The Potrang Marpo, or Red Palace, was added between 1690 and 1694. In 1922 the 13th Dalai Lama renovated many chapels and assembly halls in the White Palace and added two stories to the Red Palace. In 1959 the palace was slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese invasion. It was not sacked by the Red Guards during the 1960s and 1970s, due to the personal intervention of Chou En Lai. Consequently, all the chapels and their artefacts are well preserved. The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India, after the invasion and failed uprising in 1959. Today the Potala Palace has been converted into a museum by the Chinese government but is still a place of pilgrimage for many Tibetans.
Consisting of 13 stories with an interior space in excess of 130,000 square meters, it contains two palaces and living quarters of over 1,000 rooms, temples, stupas and 10,000 shrines. As a museum it houses about 200,000 statues and a wealth of national treasures. The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south. It has thick sloping stone walls averaging 3 metres with up to 5 metres thick walls at the base. In order to help protect it against earthquakes it has copper poured into the foundations. At its base to the south is a large enclosed space with stairs and gentle slopes leading to the summit and the palace buildings.
The Potala consists of two palaces, the White and Red. The White Palace contained the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, offices, the seminary and the printing house. First built in the 17th century it was extended to its present size in the early twentieth century. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Dalai Lama and the monks with the Red Palace.
The Red Palace, painted red to represent stateliness and power, is devoted to religious study and prayer. It consists of many halls, chapels and libraries on a number of levels with many smaller galleries and passages. The main central hall built by the fifth Dalai Lama is the Great West Hall and chapels with cloth wrapping the many columns and murals painted on the walls. The Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel are the remaining parts of the 7th century building and contains statues of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wen Cheng, and Princess Bhrikuti.
The Potala Palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. In 2000 and 2001, the Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka (the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama) were added as extensions to the sites.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.