Lhasa's imposing red and white Potala Palace, Tibet, is perched on top of Marpo Ri Hill in the center of the city of Lhasa. It is the main destination of most visitors to Tibet. Visitors have never failed to be humbled by the amazing structure. It's simple, but the grand exterior hides the exquisite interiors covered with beautiful frescos and priceless works of art. The Potala Palace was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1994.

The Potala Palace is the religious center of Tibetan Buddhism and the former residence of the Dalai Lama. The giant structure looks like an ancient fortress. It was originally built in 637AD by Emperor Songtsen Gampo to greet his new bride that was coming from China. Construction of the current structure began during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama. In 1645 the White Palace, the bottom section, was completed and the Red Palace, the red section, was completed in 1694. The palace remains virtually unchanged until 1922 when the 13th Dalai Lama renovated many chapels and assembly halls and added two stories to the Red Palace. 

The building not only resembles a fortress but it was also built like one as well. The main structure measure 400 meters by 350 meters. Its sloping stone walls are covered in clay over 3 to 5 meters thick. Molten copper was poured into the foundations to defend the building against earthquakes. The entire structure has thirteen stories and contains over 1,000 rooms and 10,000 shrines. The roof of the Potala Palace rises more than 300 meters above the valley floor.

The White Palace was the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. It was used for secular purposes and contained offices, the seminary and a printing house. The palace also contains the sacred golden stupas, the tombs of past Dalai Lamas numerous chapels, shrines and libraries for Buddhist Sutras.

The Red Palace is devoted to religious study and Buddhist Prayer. It resembles a labyrinth of halls, chapels, and libraries on many different levels. It is very easy to get lost in the Red Palace.

Built in 1933, the tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama can only be visited with the company of a monk or guide. The giant white stupa contains one ton of solid gold. Offerings such as ivory, porcelain, pears, and elaborate murals decorate the stupa's interior.

To prevent overcrowding and possible damage to the structure and its treasures, the number of daily visitors is limited to 2,300 a day. Before the limit was implemented, the palace could have as many as 5,000 visitors a day. The current quota is often reached by mid-morning, so it is important for visitors to get tickets through a travel agency. In 1989 the first phase of repairs was begun on the Potala Palace and lasted until 1994 at a cost of over 55 million Yuan. The second phase was started in 2002 and is estimated to last for five years.

Want to view more of Tibet? Tailor-make a China tour incl. Tibet to uncover the charm of this high land. 

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