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Potala Palace Facts

  • CHINESE : 布达拉宫 Bùdálā Gōng /boo-daa-laa gong/
  • ALTITUDE : 3,700 m (12,139 ft)
  • LOCATION : 35 Beijing Middle Rd, Chengguan District, Lhasa, China; or 2km west of Jokhang Temple.
  • BUILDER : Songtsen Gampo in 637 AD; 5th Dalai Lama in 17 century
  • TYPE : World Heritage Site, Architectural Buildings, Castles, Religious Sites.
  • BEST SEASON TO VISIT : Summer / Autumn
  • HISTORY : More than 1300 years

In possession of rich cultural heritage, Potala Palace is a must-see place for your Tibet trip. Potala Palace is known as the "pearl on the roof of the world." It is also a cardinal landmark of the snowy plateau and an awe-inspiring place to visit. As a 5A tourism spot on the national level, Potala Palace is a famous palace-style architectural complex and an outstanding representative of Tibetan architecture, as well as one of the most famous ancient building wonders in China and the world. It's been listed on the World Cultural Heritage list since 1994.

Overview of Potala Palace

Potala Palace

Potala Palace, the highest ancient palace in the world, was situated on the Red Hill of central Lhasa, reaching an altitude of 3,700 m (12,139 ft) at the topmost point. The Potala Palace is where successive Dalai Lamas held political events and religious activities, as well as their winter residence in the past. With profound Buddhist culture, Potala Palace attracts a large number of pilgrims to pray in this holy place.

The History of Potala Palace

Potala was named after a holy hill in South India, which means "Abode of the Avalokitesvara (Buddha of Mercy) in Sanskrit word." The Legend of Potala dates back to the 7th century, the Tang Dynasty (618B.C. - 907B.C.) of China then Tibet King Songtsen Gampo built a 9-story palace with a thousand rooms up on the Red Hill for his bride, Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty and named it Potala Palace. The Potala Palace we see today was built in the Qing Dynasty. Because the original one was destroyed in the war when the Songtsen Gampo Dynasty declined.

The Structure of Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is a landmark of Lhasa and Tibet, containing two parts, the Red Palace and the White Palace. Located on the southern slope of Red Hill, the Potala Palace was built along the hill. Inside Potala Palace, there are more than 1000 rooms, chanting halls, seminary, temples, diverse chambers for worshipping Buddha, and chambers housing the stupa tombs of eight Dalai Lamas.

The Red Palace, the core of the Potala Palace, serves as a religious holy site.

The Red Palace, the center of Potala Palace

The Red Palace, the highest part of the center, was painted entirely in red to symbolize stateliness and power. It was used for religious study and Buddhist prayer. The interior was composed of a complicated layout with different halls, chapels, and libraries in each layer. Besides, it processes an array of smaller galleries and winding passages. Great-West Hall, considered the largest hall, with beautiful murals painted on its inner walls, takes an area of 725 sq meters (about 7,804 sq ft). There are three chapels around the Great West Hall, but only the Dharma Cave and the Saint's Chapel remain constructions of the 7th century with the statues of Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wen Cheng, and Princess Bhrikuti inside. As the most crucial part, the Red Palace is the place where you should be while visiting Potala Palace.

The White Palace, the wing of Potala Palace

The winter palace of Dalai Lama

The White Palace or Potrang Karpo once served as the office building of Tibet's local government was painted in white to convey peace and quiet, which was composed of the living quarters of Dalai Lama. The Great East Hall, which occupied a space of 717 sq meters (about 7,718 sq ft), was the spot for momentous religious and political events. The fifth and sixth floors serve as the living quarters and offices. The seventh floor(the top floor) is the Dalai Lama Palace, which consists of two parts, the East Chamber of Sunshine and the West Chamber of Sunshine, and furnishings are very luxurious inside. The Dalai Lama palace used to be the place where the 13th Dalai Lama and 14th Dalai Lama lived, and also where they conducted the local government affairs. It was so hierarchical that only senior monks and officials were allowed in. 

Treasures of Potala Palace

Inside the Potala Palace, the walls of all the palaces, halls and corridors are covered with murals and surrounded by various relievos. Most murals and sculptures are very colorful and have great historical and artistic value, with the topics of the plateau scenery, historical legends, Buddhist stories, construction scene, etc. There are large collections of cultural relics and treasures, including nearly 10,000 various types of thangkas (Buddhist scroll paintings), and tens of thousands of Buddha statues made of gold, silver, jade, wood, and clay. Besides, there are the stupa towers of the successive Dalai Lama in the past dynasties, the decrees for pardon, jade seals issued by Ming and Qing emperors, gifts, plaques, scrolls of Buddhist sutras, crafts, etc. Among all the treasures, the stupas that keep the corpses of successive Dalai Lama are the most precious.

Good Spots for Photography 

Shot Potala Palace from Chakpori Hill

Chakpori Hill --- The design photo on the back of the 50 RMB bill was taken at the viewing platform of Chakpori Hill.
Dragon Lake Park (Zongjiao Lukang Park ) --- It's located behind the Potala Palace. There is a pond in the park that just reflects the backside of the Potala Palace.
Potala Palace Square --- Before visiting Potala Palace, you can take a panoramic view of the front part across the road. The night view of the Potala Palace is also fascinating, especially in the light and shade.

Peak Tourists Season Notes

The Potala Palace implements a pre-sale ticket system from April to October, and the number of visitors per day is limited to 2,300. Especially during peak tourist season(July to October), the visit time is no more than 1 hour. To reserve tickets for the next day after 5 pm,  tourists should line up early in advance to collect the ticket voucher. And the ticket voucher indicates the visit time of the next day. Please arrive at the palace 30 minutes before your allotted time. Note that if you arrive later than the time on your voucher (or if you forget your voucher) you can be refused an entry.

Travel Tips

  1. Visitors all have to enter from the east main entrance.
  2. Photography isn't allowed inside the chapels.
  3. Not to bring any water, drinks, cosmetics, or other liquids as well as knives, igniters, matches and other articles. If you are carrying the above items, you should deposit them at the luggage office. When you come out from the north gate after visiting, you can take back your stuff.
  4. Take off your hats or sunglasses.
  5. Take a coat when visiting Potala Palace as it's a little bit cold inside the Potala Palace.
  6. Not to touch Buddha statues or any cultural relics.

Here's a video about Potala Palace for watching more details.

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