The Potala Palace has been the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century and represents the apogee of Tibetan architecture. The complex is a reminder of Tibetan Buddhism’s central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. Sitting at 3700m above sea level in the center of the Lhasa Valley, the complex is comprised of the White and Red Palaces and stands at a height of more than 110m.
The White Palace houses the main ceremonial hall with the throne of the Dalai Lama. His private rooms and audience hall are on the uppermost levels. The White Palace contains 698 murals, almost 10,000 painted scrolls, sculptures, curtains, objects of gold and silver, and a large collection of sutras and important historical documents. All sutras of the different Buddhisms are placed separately in the libraries of the Potala Palace. The Red Palace is situated to the west of the White Palace and contains the gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas. A stupa is a receptacle of the soul.
Rooms are cool in the summer and warm in the winter, a special feature of Tibetan architecture. The most precious statue collections were brought to the Potala Palace during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama. In the 17th century, Desi established life-sized statues of gold, silver, and bronze. These are now the main worshipped statues in the chapels of the Potala Palace. The murals inside the Palace relate to the life of Buddha Shakyamuni and Avalokitesvara, the story of the origins of the Tibetan people, the construction of the Potala Palace, and the deeds of the 5th Dalai Lama.Many of the thangkas and murals in the palace were painted by Khen-tse Chen-mu College and Menthang College.
The Potala Palace’s beginnings start at the time of Songtsen of the Thubet (Tubo) dynasty in the 7th century AD. At the time, it was called the Red Mountain Palace. However, the fall of the Tubo dynasty led to a period of turmoil in which the palace fell into disrepair. After the 5th Dalai Lama founded the Ganden Phogrand Dynasty, reconstruction began on the Red Mountain Palace during the mid-17th century in an endeavor that would last 30 years. The reconstruction produced a complex of buildings with the White Palace at its nucleus. After the completion of the White Palace, the 5th Dalai Lama moved the capital from Drepung Monastery to the Potala Palace. Since then, it has been the residence and seat of government for the succeeding Dalai Lamas.
8 years after the death of the 5th Dalai Lama, the construction of the Red Palace was begun by Sangye Gyatsho, the chief executive official of the time. It was completed in 1694 and is second in size only to the White Palace. Since the construction of the present palace finished, the Meditation Cave of the Dharma King, where Songtsen Gampo is believed to have studied, and the Lokeshvara Chapel, have also been incorporated into the complex and both buildings preceded the existence of the present palace.
The Potala Palace was designated as a Site for National Protection in 1961 and in 1994, it was inscribed on the World Heritage list by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations.