The Potala Palace in Lhasa

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The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China was the residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. It is now a museum and World Heritage Site.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (died 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

It may overlay the remains of an earlier fortress called the White or Red Palace on the site, built by Songtsan Gampo in 637.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m. thick, and 5 m. (more than 16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Thirteen stories of buildings-containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues-soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the "Red Hill", rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Tradition has it that the three main hills of Lhasa represent the "Three Protectors of Tibet". Chokpori, just to the south of the Potala, is the soul-mountain of Vajrapani, Pongwari that of Manjusri, and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Avalokitesvara.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

The site on which the Potala Palace rises is built over a palace erected by Songtsan Gampo on the Red Hill. The Potala contains two chapels on its northwest corner that conserve parts of the original building.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

The Red Palace or Potrang Marpo is part of the Potala palace that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. It consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages.

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