POTALA PALACE – TIBET is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Potala Palace is the highest-situated palace in the world.
Situated in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, at an altitude of 3,700 m, it is one of the most famous palaces in the world. It is also called the Dalai Lama’s palace and it is the coat-of-arms of Tibetan culture. With its gold roofs, immence figure of an immaculate white alternating with red, it impresses its pilgrims from a long distance. The palace has been worshipped by pilgrims for centuries. They can permanently be found prostrating themselves while surrounding the building daily, always clockwise, spinning their hand prayer, or making offerings of yak butter and silk scarves in the countless chapels of the palace.
Potala Palace was the first spiritual and political center of Tibet, and it has sheltered ten Dalai Lamas, the last of whom had to run away on exile in 1959. The Dalai Lama is the leader of the Yellow Hat sect and the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara.
Tibetan Buddhism, which came in the 5th century from India in its purest form, is surprisingly different, in culture and faith, from Buddhism outside of Tibet. The doctrine of the spiritual leaders Dalai Lama who are reincarnations of the Buddha is specific of Tibetan buddhism (lamaism). Tibet has been ruled by a Dalai Lama for over 350 years, from 1600 to 1959. Also, Tibetan buddhism includes elements of the old shamanic religion Bon (or Bo), a primitive faith born in Tibet, which still survives here as an independent religion. Consequently, Tibetan buddhism is filled with elements that have to do with the world of the dead. The famous “Tibetan Book of the Dead” is considered shamanic in structure.
Potala Palace is situated on the Red Mountain (Mt Marpori) in Lhasa. It was built as a place of meditation in the 7th century, after the marriage of Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo with princess Wencheng of the Tang dynasty. In mid-7th century it was rebuilt almost to its current size by the 5th Dalai Lama who also turned it into the Dalai Lama’s winter residence – which it remained until 1959.
The building of the present-day palace started in 1645 and it lasted over 50 years. It has 13 levels and 1,000 rooms. It is 118 m high, rising 300 m above the foot of the valley, and the walls are 4.8 m thick. It is divided in two sections: the Red Palace, dedicated to religious study and meditation, and the White Palace, where the Dalai Lama’s apartments are.
The Red Palace is the wing that contains the grand ceremony halls, chapels, meditation and prayer rooms, shrines and chortens plated with gold and decorated with inscriptions made of precious stones, sheltering the remains of previous Dalai Lamas. The most beautiful example of stupa chorten is that of the 5th Dalai Lama. It is 15 m high, completely covered in gold (the quantity is said to be four tons of gold) and decorated with numerous precious stones.
The palace is truly a museum, a well-preserved thesaurus of Tibetan history, religion and culture, impressing with the beauty of its harmoniously balanced architecture and the beauty of its art decorations and richly decorated cult objects. It has almost 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues. Sacred remains of former lamas are here, as well as sacred texts, rich decorative paintings, symbols.