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Potala Palace

Potala Palace

A Brief Introduction to the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace, which is called the "Second Putuo Mountain" (Putuo Mountain is one of the four Chinese famous Buddhist Mountains), stands on the Hongshan Mountain northwest of Tibet's capital, Lhasa. It is a large-scaled architectural complex in the style of palace-castle. The Potala Palace was originally built by Songsten Gampo for Princess Wencheng in the Tang Dynasty. In the 17th century, it was rebuilt and became the residence of the Dalai Lama in the past dynasties as well as the center of the government under the theocratic system, the fusion of politics with religion. It was promulgated the key national cultural relics protection unit by the State Council of PRC in 1961. In 1994, the Potala Palace was listed as the World Cultural Heritage.

History of the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace was originally built in the 7th century of the Songsten Gampo period, which was 1300 years ago. In 641 A.D, Songtsen Gampo, the ruler of the Tubo Kingdom, had the Potala Palace built for Wen Chen Konjo (Princess Wencheng) of the Tang Dynasty, whom he was soon to marry. According to the record, there was a silver-copper-alloyed bridge connecting the palace of Princess Wencheng and that of Songsten Gampo. A racecourse of Songsten Gampo lay outside the east gate of the Potala Palace. But when the Tubo Kingdom established by Songsten Gampo was destroyed, the Potala Palace was also ruined in the war.

In the late Ming Dynasty, with the force support of Mongolia, the fifth Dalai Lama established the Gedanpozhang Kingdom and in the year of 1645 the Potala Palace was rebuilt. So the fifth Dalai Lama removed from the Gedanzhang Palace to the Riguang Palace on the top of the White Palace of the Potala Palace. In 1690, under the auspices of Di-ba-sang-jie-cuo, the fifth Dalai Lama's Lingta Palace of Red Palace was rebuilt and was finished in 1693. Later, it was expanded by the Dalai Lama in the successive dynasties and comes to be the size it is now.

Architectural Features of the Potala Palace

The whole Potala Palace is in the structure of stone-wood complex. The outside wall of the palace is as thick as 2-5 meters. The foundation of the wall was buried in the rock stratum. Built with moorstone, the wall is dozens of meters high and is reinforced by melted iron every other section of distances, thus enhancing the aseismatic ability of the wall.

The roofs and the sunblinds of the palace are in the structure of wood with overhanging eaves and cocked corners, coppery tiles and gilded Jingzhuang (Jingzhuang are polygonal stone pillars engraved with scriptures). The ridges of the palace are decorated with some animals-shaped articles. Those shining roofs are in the style of Xieshan (four side roof with ridges) or Cuanjian (pavilion roof), which show the architectural features of Han Dynasty. The wall surface under the roofs is decorated with gilded copper ornaments. Most of them are the images of Buddhist ritual instruments with rich Tibetan Buddhist colors. The columns and beams are decorated with bright paintings and colorful incisings.

Inside the palace, there are corridors and passageways interlacing each other, thus forming a twisting and unfathomable space. Visitors will feel themselves in a mysterious world when they pass through the palace.

Main Buildings in the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is 13-storied and 110 meters high and is mainly composed of the White Palace in the east and the Red Palace in the middle. The White Palace is the residence of Dalai Lama and the Red Palace is the Buddhist palace and also the pagoda for the departed Dalai Lama. In front of the Red Palace lies a high white wall which is used to hang the large tapestry of the Buddhist in Buddhist festivals.

The White Palace

The White Palace is named for the color of the outside wall. It is the place for the daily life of the Dalai Lama. It is seven-storied. On the top of it is the Riguang (sunlight) House, the house for Dalai Lama's sleeping. With part of the roof open in the house, the sunlight can shine directly into the house, thus obtaining its name. The sixth floor and the fifth floor of the White Palace are for the living and official business of the Dalai Lama. On the forth floor is the biggest house of White Palace, Cuoqinsha where Dalai Lama hold the important ceremonies. There is a square on the east outside the White Palace. On the square, Dalai Lama watches dramas and hold outdoor activities. On the south and north sides of the square are equipped with schools which trains the clerical officials.

The Red Palace

The Red Palace is arranged in the layout of mandala with many scripture halls and Buddha halls. The main building of the Red Palace is the Stupa Palace which is the pagoda for the departed Dalai Lama. There are altogether five floors in the palace which are respectively for the 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 13th Dalai Lama. The biggest palace in the Red Palace is the pagoda for the 5th Dalai Lama. It is over 6 meters high with an area of 725.7 square meters. In this pagoda there are 698 murals in the theme of the 5th Dalai Lama's living experiences.

In the west of the Red Palace lies the Stupa of the 13th Dalai Lama which was built in 1936 and is the latest building in the Potala Palace. The oldest building in the Potala Palace-Fawang (Dhammassami) Cave is also in the Red Palace. In the 9th century, the Potala Palace was destroyed in the internal disorder of Tubo and only the Fawang Cave survived the disaster. The statues of Songsten Gampo, Princess Wencheng and Princess Chizun of Nepal are displayed in the cave.