The Potala Palace is the most famous religious and administrative fortress of Tibet. Situating on the top of the red hill called Marpori Hill, the palace is in the center of the Lhasa Valley. A veritable gem of Tibetan Buddhism, the Potala Palace presents many facets to pinpoint Tibet’s identity both politically and religiously.
History of the Potala Palace
According to the history, the construction of the palace dates back to the time of the king of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo (609-650). Erected at the top of the Red Hill, the building was originally built to symbolize the marriage of King Gampo with the Chinese princess Wencheng. It was initially a simple Red Fortress serving especially as a royal palace.
In the ninth century, the fire ravaged the palace violently. Lobsang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama of Tibet (1617-1682) rebuilt and enlarged the palace. As an imposing Buddhist temple, the Potala Palace became a residence of the Dalai Lamas and, at the same time, the seat of the Tibetan government.
During Emperor Shun Zhi’s visit to the palace, the fifth Dalai Lama, the founding father of the lamasery, was awarded as Tibet’s highest spiritual leader.
The fifth Dalai Lama died in 1682 while the reconstruction of the palace was not over yet. Before his death, Lobsang Gyasto entrusted the works to Sangye Gyatso. The latter assured the government of the country and kept the death of Lobstang secret until the end of the reconstruction. At first, the Dalai Lamas only lived in the Potala Palace during the winter, hence its name as a Dalai Lamas winter palace.
After the takeover of the Chinese state in Tibet in 1950, the lamasery became a property of the Chinese government in 1961. They took advantage of the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama, the last resident of the palace, in 1959 in Dharamsala, India for seizing the lamasery. Since then, it has been inscribed on the Chinese Heritage List and in 1961 became a museum of the People’s Republic of China. Very famous and admired in China and around the world, the Potala Palace was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage in 1994.
Visit of the Potala Palace
The Potala Palace is a gigantic and magnificent fortress that has become the symbol of Tibet. With 3 floors and more than 1,000 rooms shared between the White Palace, the Red Palace and the adjoining buildings, the palace displays a bold architecture that is in perfect harmony with the natural scenery of the Marpori hill. Overlooking Lhassa on an altitude of almost 37,000 meters, the palace with its typically Tibetan architecture presents the apex of the human work. Long regarded as a sacred place, the Potala Palace is often nicknamed the “palace of gods in Tibet”.
The White Palace
With more than 400 meter in length, the White Palace stands on 13 floors that each one contains nearly 1000 pieces. You will discover old courtrooms, private apartments giving a glimpse of the modest daily life of the Dalai Lama and the evolution of the Tibetan government.
The white palace has served for many years as the principal residence for the Dalai Lamas and the seat of the Tibetan government. It is above all a symbol of the unification of Tibetan political, administrative and spiritual power.
The Red Palace
Built in 1694 by Sangye Gyatso, the Red Palace is at the center of the complex and rises a little higher than the other buildings nearby. It consists of ceremonial halls, several libraries, meditation halls and funerary halls that hold the burials of the 13 Dalai Lamas.
The Red Palace has become famous for the eight golden stupas of the Buddhas installed in the center and for the famous funerary hall of the founding father of the lamasery. The remains of the fifth Dalai Lama reside in the famous Chorten (Stupa). This is a 14-meter high coffin decorated with gold leaf and adorned with a multitude of pearls, turquoises and diamonds.
The Red Palace is a temple reserved only for the worship of Buddhism. Through the meditation halls and libraries, the monks quietly perform their learning. The Palace is the ideal place to appreciate Buddhist culture and religion. You will quickly feel the spiritual atmosphere that emerges every places.
Other Adjoining Buildings of Potala Palace
Potala Palace has some other annexes including the School of Buddhist Logic, the seminary, the gardens, courtyards, printing House and even a jail.
Through the countless rooms and galleries of the Potala Palace, the fortress contains nearly 20,000 unique artistic works. A veritable library of Tibetan Buddhist culture, the palace is a reflection of the richness of Buddhism. It contains statues of Buddha Sakyakumi and the fifth Dalai Lama, collections of porcelain, jade, gold and silver.
The most important works are sutras, Tangkas, historical relics linked to the country’s distant past, murals covering nearly 2,500 square meters, painted scrolls, sculptures and tapestries. These works trace the history of the palace and the importance of Buddhism in Tibet.
How to Get to the Potala Palace?
You can take the bus line 1, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23 or 26 to get off at the Minhangju station and then walk to the Potala Palace box office.
Admission spawning is 200 RMB from May until the end of October, and 100 RMB from the beginning of November until the end of April.
In order to conserve the palace, local authorities have limited the number of visitors allowed per day to 2,300.
- From May 1 to October 31: from 07:30 to 18:40
- From 1 November to 30 April: from 09:00 to 16:00
During the high season (May 1 to October 31), it is suggested that you book the tickets through travel agencies. Otherwise, you are required to apply for free reservation tickets with your valid identity documents, such as ID cards and passports a day before visiting the palace. You can use a valid ID document only once within a week. However, a visitor can have as many as four reservation tickets (one for himself and three for his companions) at a time. The reservation ticket window is open since 09:00 until that the tickets are sold out.