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The Potala Palace — A Buddhist Palace on the Tibetan Plateau

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a valuable museum of Tibetan history and culture.

Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibet Autonomous Region of China

Potala Palace in Lhasa Valley of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Photo by Pinglaohu.

Potala Palace Facts and Important Data


  • The Potala Palace is about 360,000 square meters large, with 130,000 gross floor area. 

  • It is made of mainly two parts, the Red Palace and the White Palace.

  • The buildings are about 117 meters high, with 13 stories. 

  • It is around 3700 meters in altitude, making it the world's highest ancient palace.

Potala Palace Under Sunlight

Builders and Reasons for Constructing the Potala Palace


A noble-born clan leader in Tibet named Songtsen Gampo (617 — 650) was brave and intelligent.


He unified the Tibetan Plateau, established the first documented kingdom called Tubo or Tibetan Empire, and migrated his capital to Lhasa.

Afterward, he planned to establish a good diplomatic relationship with the Tang Empire.


Hence, he sent some diplomats to visit and pay tribute to Emperor Taizong of Tang and request a marriage to a princess of Tang.

Tang Tai Zong or Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan (Tu Bo) Envoy, Painted by Politician/Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673)

Emperor Taizong of Tang Meeting with the Tibetan (Tu Bo) Envoy, Painted by Politician/Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673) — Palace Museum

After four years of negotiation, in 638, the emperor finally agreed and bestowed Princess Wencheng to marry Songtsen Gampo.

Princess Wencheng (625 — 680), a beautiful girl from Tang's noble family, came to the Tibetan Empire in 641 and was honored as the Empress of Tibet. 

To provide the honorable princess of Tang, also the future Empress of Tibet, a hospitable place to live, Songtsen Gampo commanded to building of a magnificent palace on one of their holy mountains, the Red Hill (Marpori).

After their grand wedding ceremony, one of the most famous and important political alliances in the history of China, King Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, and the successive royals lived in the Potala Palace. 

King Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng

King Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wencheng

When this first kingdom of Tibet perished about 200 years later, the Potala palace was partly destroyed.

In 1645, the fifth Dalai Lama rebuilt and expanded this palace, supported by their suzerain, the emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912). 

The 5th Dalai Lama Paying a Formal Visit to the Shunzhi Emperor of Qing in the Year 1652, Part of Frescoes in the Potala Palace.

The 5th Dalai Lama Paying a Formal Visit to the Shunzhi Emperor of Qing in the Year 1652, Part of Frescoes in the Potala Palace.

In the following centuries, this palace was expanded by each Dalai Lama several times as their residence and ruling center.

The White Palace was mainly the winter palace and residence of the Dalai for administrative and ceremonial purposes.  

The Red Palace mainly has previous Dalai Lamas' mausoleum stupas surrounded by many sutra halls and temples. 

Panoramic of the Potala Palace, Photo from VCG.

Panoramic of the Potala Palace on Red Mountain, Photo from VCG.

The Significance of the Potala Palace in Tibet


From 1645 to 1959, the Potala Palace was the political and religious center of the Tibetans.


Today, it is a holy religious site with significant cultural, historical, and architectural values. 

Inside the palace, there are over gold and jade edicts awarded by the Qing government, 2500 square meters of frescoes, thousands of Buddhist pagodas, as well as tens of thousands of Buddhist statues, Thang-ga (Tibetan Buddhism scroll paintings), scriptures, wood carvings, medication and astrology classics, historical documents, and large numbers of other luxurious artifacts.

Gold Edicts Awarded by the Qing Government, Preserved in the Potala Palace.

Gold Edicts Awarded by the Qing Government, Preserved in the Potala Palace.

Most importantly, eight extremely luxurious golden stupas were placed with the bodies of the 5th to 13th Dalai Lamas (except the 6th, who got banished during a political conflict).

Only the stupas of the 5th Dalai Lama used around 3721 kg of gold, decorated with tens of thousands of peals and valuable gems.

Unique Features of the Potala Palace Wall


The walls of the Potala Palace are 1 to 5 meters thick, 5m at the base, and 1m on the top.


Liquid iron was used in the middle of the walls to ensure this grand palace stood firm in the cold, windy Tibetan Plateau.


Every year, the palace walls would be repainted, using a unique coating mixed with milk, honey, sugar, saffron, and some herbs, to protect this ancient, holy place.

Golden Roofs and Houses on the Top of the Potala Palace.

Golden Roofs and Houses on the Top

Why There Are Few Photos of the Interior of the Potala Palace? 


As a holy religious site with many previous Dalai Lamas' mausoleums, and ancient building ensembles with great historical and cultural values, it is not allowed to take photos or videos inside the palace. 

Potala Palace

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