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The Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is situated on a hill some 2 km northwest of Lhasa City, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. It is a world-renowned architectural group of palace-fortress style and embodies the essence of Tibetan ancient architectural arts and wisdom of the Tibetan people. It was the religious and political center of old Tibet and the winter residence of Dalai Lamas. From the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, major religious and political ceremonies were all held here.

The Potala Palace, with a history of about l400 years, was first built in the 7th century under the Tubo chieftain Songtsan Gambo. In the early Tang Dynasty (618-907), Songtsan Gambo took Princess Wencheng, a daughter of the Tang royal family, as his wife. In order that posterity could remember this great event, he had a nine-storey building with a thousand rooms constructed on Red Hill, which is at an altitude of 3,700-odd meters, as the residence for the princess and named it Potala Palace.

The palace, reclining against and capping Red Hill, has a large scale. It now covers an area of 410,000 square meters, and its construction area alone totals 130,000 square meters. The stone-wood structured main building has a l3-storeyed facade totaling 110 meters in height, built tier upon tier from the hi1l foot up to peak. Five palace halls are covered with gold-plating copper tiles, presenting a really magnificent view.

According to the rule of sunlight refraction on the tableland, the design and construction of the Potala Palace adopted wide and solid wall foundations, with cuniculuses and intakes dug out of the foundation and extending in all directions. Inside the rooms there are pillars, wooden square blocks, girders, traditional beams, etc., to form the supporting framework. All halls and rooms have clerestories for daylight and fresh air. On the walls of the Palace are murals, totaling 2,500 square meters.

At the collapse of Tubo Dynasty found by Songtsan Gambo, the Potala Palace was largely destroyed by wars. In the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the fifth Dalai Lama founded the Ganden Phodrang Dynasty. From l645, the Potala Palace started reconstruction. Later on, through repeated enlargements carried out by successive Dalai Lamas, the Potala Palace acquired the grandness as seen today, and formally became a holy site for Tibetan Buddhism.

The complex mainly comprises the White Palace, which is the residence for Dalai Lamas; the Red Palace, which is a sacred building; and the residence of monasteries.

The Red Palace consists of halls, stupas and various kinds of chapels. It houses altogether eight stupas, among which the largest one belonged to the fifth Dalai Lama. Records show that this stupa alone cost 119,000 liang (3,700 kilograms) of gold and the mummified and perfumed body of the fifth Dalai Lama is preserved inside it. The Great West Hall is the largest hall in the Red Palace, housing many rare treasures such as a pair of large-sized brocaded veiling bestowed by Emperor Kangxi and a stele bestowed by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The gallery on the upstairs of the Great West Hall leads to a cave where Songtsan Gambo used to cultivate himself. The cave, built in the seventh century, is one of the oldest architectures in the Potala Palace and it houses statues of Songtsan Gambo, Princess Wencheng and Songtsan Gambo's ministers.

The Potala Palace is not only the symbol of the Tibetan ethic minority, but also the symbole of the solidification of the Chinese people. It is also a gem of Tibetan architectural art that offers mankind a plateau snow land's cultural heritage without parallel in the world. The palace was listed as a major national cultural relic to be reserved in 1961, and was listed among the World Heritage List by the UNESCO in December 1994.

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