The Potala Palace — Buddhism Palace on the Tibetan Plateau

What is the Potala Palace?


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, Photo by Pinglaohu.


Noticeable data of the Potala Palace.


  • 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 altitude, which makes it the highest ancient palace in the world.

Who and why built the Potala Palace?


A noble-born clan leader in Tibetan named Songtsen Gampo (617 — 650) was brave and intelligent, he unified the Tibetan Plateau, where he established the first documented kingdom named Tubo or Tibetan Empire and migrated his capital to Lhasa.

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


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


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

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

Princess Wencheng (625 — 680), a beautiful girl from Tang's noble family, came to the Tibetan Empire in the year 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 build the Potala Palace on one of their holy mountains.

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 and Princess Wencheng

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

Until in the year 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.

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

The White Palace was mainly as Dalai Lamas' residences, administrative offices, and ceremonial purposes. 

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

Panoramic of the Potala Palace, Photo from VCG.


What is the importance of the Potala Palace in Tibet?


From 1645 to 1959, the Potala Palace had been the political and religious center of the Tibetan.


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

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

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

Most importantly, eight extremely luxurious golden stupas that placed with the bodies of 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 gold, decorated with tens of thousands of peals and valuable gems.


What's special about the wall of the palace?


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 walls, to make sure this grand palace stand strong in the cold, windy Tibetan Plateau.    


Every year, the walls of the Potala Palace would be painted again, using a special 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.

Why there are few photos of interior of the Potala Palace? 


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


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