The Potala Palace in Tibet
The Potala Palace is situated on the top of the "Red Hill" in the heart of Lhasa, capital of southwestern China's Tibet Autonomous Region. A transliteration from Sanskrit, "Potala" originally refers to the abode island of Avalokitesvara. First built in the seventh century, during the reign of Songtsen Gampo, the 32nd-generation Tsempo of the Tubo Dynasty, and then called "the Red Hill Palace", the structure slowly fell into decay later along with the decline of the Dynasty. During the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama rebuilt magnificent palaces on the ruins and renamed it "the Potala Palace", which since then has been serving as the political and religious center of Tibet.
Perching on the hill, the Potala Palace is of significant size and splendor. It covers an area of more than 360,000 square meters, with the main building soaring up 117 meters in 13 storeys. “A pearl on the roof of the world”, it is a famous complex of the Tibetan fortress type, as well as a distinguished representative of both ancient Tibetan and Chinese architectural art.
The main body of the Potala Palace consists of the White Palace, the Red Palace and various surrounding buildings. The cluster centering on the White Palace was completed in 1648. The White Palace, a seven-storey building facing south, is the political and religious seat of generations of Dalai Lama; the Red Palace cluster, at the middle of the Potala Palace, was completed in 1694, with the six-storey main building serving as a place for the sacred gold stupas—the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas—and various religious activities. Attached buildings on the hill include the seminary, monk's living quarters, yards at west and east, and those down the hill include Xoililekong, Tibetan local government Marjikang, printing house, jail, stables, the back garden and the Dragon King's Pond.
Since the Fifth Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace has become the winter palace of the successive Dalai Lamas, and the center of clerical governance by local leaders, where important religious and political ceremonies are staged. The imposing structures epitomize excellent achievements of Tibetan, Han and Mongolian people in culture, art and religion. Today, the Palace, with its glorious charm and position as a sacred site of Tibetan Buddhism, has become a universally acknowledged symbol of the Tibetan ethnic group.
The Jokhang Temple is situated in the southeastern part of downtown Lhasa. Its construction first started in 601 AD, the 21st year of the reign of emperor Zhenguan of the Tang Dynasty, and it received its present name during the ninth century, meaning "a hall storing scriptures". It is Tibet's oldest Han-Tibetan wooden structure built after the Tang style. At the very beginning it only contained eight halls. During the 15th century, Je Tsongkhapa created here the Gelug school of Lamaism, and the temple gradually gained popularity among followers. During the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama administered large-sized expansion and renovation to the temple, finally creating a grand building cluster covering an area of 25,100 square meters.
The main body of the temple is the four-storey scripture hall, with a Han style structure and typically Tibetan decorations at column heads and eaves. The first floor houses a gold statue of Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha, brought into Tibet by Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-904 AD); the second floor accommodates statues of Songsten Gampo, Princess Wencheng and Princess Bhrikuti; the third floor is a patio, serving as roofs and windows of the ground hall; the fourth floor features four gold roofs in the center. Corridors inside and outside the temple are full of paintings, covering an area of 2,600 square meters and telling stories from Buddhism, historical figures and folktales. The temple is also a treasure house of cultural relics, and the Tang-Tibetan Alliance Tablet standing in front of it testifies to a history of friendly relationships between the two ethnic groups.
Norbulingka, about two kilometers west of the Potala Palace and along the Lhasa River, means "a garden of treasures" in the Tibetan language. First built in the middle of the 18th century, it served as the traditional summer residence for the successive Dalai Lamas to handle political and religious affairs. After the Seventh Dalai Lama, all Dalai Lamas conducted expansions to the park, especially the Eighth and the Thirteenth. Norbulingka began to display visible features of a garden after the Eighth Dalai Lama, while the Thirteenth Dalai Lama added the "golden wood" and the Golden Phodron in its western part.
Covering an area about 3.6 million square meters, Norbulingka is lauded a "botanical garden on the plateau" as home to 100-odd species of plants, not only common ones found in Lhasa, but rare varieties from both southern and northern slopes of the Himalayas, and precious flowers introduced from the inland and abroad.
Norbulingka consists of several palace groups: the Kelsang Phodrong, the Golden Phodron and the Tagten Migyur Phodrang, and each is divided into the palace area, the area in front and the wood. The Kelsang Phodrong is at the southeastern part of the south yard within the second-layer wall; the Tsokyil Phodrong, which is a pavilion in the midst of a lake, is 120 meters northwest of the Kelsang Phodrong and the most beautiful spot in Norbulingka; the Golden Phodron is at the western part of Norbulingka. All structures are mainly built in wood and stone, with unified planning and a noticeable style of Tibetan architecture. Fine paintings are found in walls of main halls and Norbulingka also houses a large quantity of cultural relics and scriptures.
Dubbed "a pearl on the roof of the world", the Potala Palace is famous for its architectural layout, engineering, metallurgy, painting and sculpture, which embody high achievements of Tibetan craftsmen as well as those of Han, Mongolian and Man ethnic groups.