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Potala Palace

The splendid Potala Palace, Lhasa

Potala Palace integrates a palace, a castle, and a monastery. Built in Chinese and Tibetan styles, Potala Palace is the largest and best-kept palace compound in Tibet. In 1994, it was listed as a world natural and cultural heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Nestling on Red Mountain, Potala Palace occupies an area of over 130 thousand square meters (32 acres), and is more than 360 meters (394 yards) long from east to west, with a height of over 110 meters (361 feet). This palace merges with the twists and turns of the mountain, layer upon layer. The walls of the palace are red and white, the roofs resplendent and stately. It is a treasure of Tibetan architecture, a symbol of the Tibetan people's great creativity, a symbol of Lhasa City, and a unique human cultural heritage rising on the snow-capped plateau.

The supporting structure of Potala Palace is made of wood, and the outside walls are thick-anywhere from two to five meters (79 - 197 inches). The base was built from granite and was embedded into the rocks. It has a height of about ten meters (33 feet). Molten iron was poured into channels cut in the granite at regular intervals to reinforce it. Most of the roofs of the palaces and halls are covered with gold-plated bronze tiles, in the style of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). The walls are mostly decorated with gold-plated bronze ornaments in the shapes of Buddhist ritual objects. The pillars and beams are full of colorful paintings and carved ornamentations. The corridors do not intersect with each other, but zigzag and run deep inside the palace. If you are alone inside the complex palaces and halls, you may have the feeling you have entered a mystery world.

Located on Red Mountain northwest of Lhasa City, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Potala Palace is where The Dalai Lamas (Tenzin Gyatso) live and hold political and religious activities. Red Mountain is 3,650 meters (11,975 feet) above sea level, so Potala Palace is regarded as 'a bright pearl on the roof of the world'. Besides, Potala Palace (also known as 'the second Putuo Mountain') is the holiest place of Tibetan Buddhism, because it is believed that the goddess Kuanyin lived there. And in Tibetan, Potala (Pu Tuo) means the island where Goddess Kuanyin lived.

In the seventh century AD over 1,300 years ago, Songzan Ganbu, ruler of the Tubo Kingdom (Tibet today), had this palace built especially for Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). At the time, it was the political center of the Tubo Kingdom, and had nine stories and one-thousand rooms. In addition there were three sets of rectangular city walls, one within the other. A silver and bronze bridge connected the palaces of Songzan Ganbu and Princess Wencheng. Outside the east gate, Songzan Ganbu even built a race course. Later, this ancient palace was destroyed in the wars that were waged as the Tubo Kingdom declined.

In the 17th century AD (1645 AD), Ngawang Lozang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama, spent three years rebuilding Potala Palace. In 1648 AD, a new palace with the White Palace as the main building appeared before people's eyes on Red Mountain. Eight years after the death of Lozang Gyatso the Red Palace was constructed in his memory. Later, this palace was enlarged and renovated by successive generations of Dalai Lamas. Thus, Potala Palace reached its present form.

 The Main Architectures
As the largest palatial architecture at the highest altitude anywhere in the world, Potala Palace is a combination of palace, funerary stupa palace, Buddha palace, and Sutra Chanting Hall. There are also courtyards and rooms for monks.

 White Palace
The White Palace is the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, and has always been the place where the local administrative office of Tibet was located. It was so named because its outside walls are white. It is here that the Dalai Lamas live. The building has seven stories. The top floor is the bedroom of the Dalai Lamas, and because part of the roof is open and the sun shines on the room for a long time each day, it was named the Chamber of Sunshine. The chamber was later divided into east and west sectors respectively used as the bedroom of the thirteenth and fourteenth Dalai Lamas. There is a strong hierarchical organization here, and only advanced monks are permitted to enter the chamber.

The fifth and sixth floors are bedrooms and offices. On the fourth floor is the largest hall of the White Palace - the Eastern Hall. All the important activities of the Potala Palace are held in this hall such as the ceremony to install new Dalai Lama and the ceremony for an underage Dalai Lama to assume their full role in the government when they get old enough.

Outside of the White Palace, steps lead to a square halfway up the mountain, where the Dalai Lamas usually watch operas and hold open air activities. At the northern and southern sides of the square are rooms and schools for the monks.

Golden roof of Potala Palace, Lhasa

 Red Palace
Located in the center of Potala Palace, the Red Palace is connected with the White Palace by ceremonial and Buddha halls. The Red Palace consists of funerary stupa palaces for the Dalai Lamas of various generations. There are five funerary stupa palaces for the fifth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and thirteenth Dalai Lamas with similar shapes but different sizes. The largest one is the one for the fifth Dalai Lama. It is held up by 16 large square pillars and is three stories high.

The Great West Hall and the Saint's Chapel of the Red Palace are both constructed in the style of the Tubo Kingdom. The Great West Hall was Songzan Ganbu's leisure retreat. Today, the statues of Songzan Ganbu, Princess Wencheng, Princess Chizun, and their ministers are still enshrined and worshiped in the hall. On the north side of this hall in the Red Palace is the Saint's Chapel, the holiest shrine of the Potala Palace.

The funerary stupas of the Dalai Lamas are the most important collections at the Potala Palace. Many historical and cultural relics such as statues, murals, Tangkar (Thangka) and sutras are preserved here. In addition, the Potala Palace also displays lots of gold, silver, jade, and porcelain objects plus many other craft and art works bestowed by the emperors of the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) dynasties. Relations between Tibet and the central China administration go back many centuries.

Airplanes - With flights to other countries and to other provinces, Tibet has opened air routes from Lhasa to Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xian, Xining, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou and Nepal's Katmandu. Gonggar Airport is located 100 kilometers south of Lhasa City. If you take a bus from Lhasa to the airport, it will take you about two hours, and the ticket is about CNY 20; if you choose to take a taxi, it will cost you CNY 150 to 250.

Trains - there are trains from Lhasa to Golmud in Qinghai Province, Chengdu, Tsedang and Chamdo in Shannan, Shigatse, and Gyangtse.

Inner city traffic - the bus ticket is usually CNY 2 in Lhasa City, and if you plan to take a taxi, don't forget to negotiate the price before you get in. The taxi fee from the back of the Red Mountain to the top of the Potala Palace is CNY 10.

1. Visitors need to reserve the ticket of the palace one day before visiting. 
2. The palace only receive 4,000 visitors one day.
3. All visitors should finish visiting within 1 hour.

Admission Fee:
CNY 200  (May 1-Oct.30)
CNY 100  (Nov. 1-Apr.30)
Opening Hours:
07:30 - 18:40  (May 1 to Oct. 31)   
09:00 - 16:40 (Nov. 1 to Apr. 30)

Recommended China Tour with Lhasa Potala Palace