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The Potala Palace

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Lhasa, China.

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Perched upon Marpo Ri hill, 130 meters above the Lhasa valley, the Potala Palace rises a further 170 meters and is the greatest monumental structure in all of Tibet. Early legends concerning the rocky hill tell of a sacred cave, considered to be the dwelling place of the Bodhisattva Chenresi (Avilokiteshvara or Kuan Yin), which was used as a meditation retreat by King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century AD. In 637 Songtsen Gampo built a palace on the hill. This structure stood until the 17th century when it was incorporated in the foundations of the buildings still standing today. From as early as the 11th century the palace was called Potala. This name probably derives from Mt. Potala, the mythological mountain abode of the Bodhisattva Avilokiteshvara in southern India.

The Potala is an immense structure, its interior space being in excess of 130,000 square meters. Fulfilling numerous functions, the Potala was the residence of the Dalai Lama and his large staff. Additionally, it was the seat of Tibetan government; it housed a school for training monks; and it was one of Tibet's major pilgrimage destinations because of the tombs of past Dalai Lamas. Within the Potala are two small chapels, the Phakpa Lhakhang and the Chogyal Drubphuk. Dating from the 7th century, these chapels are the oldest surviving structures on the hill and also the most sacred. The Potala's most venerated statue, the Arya Lokeshvara, is housed inside the Phapka Lhakhang and it draws thousands of Tibetan pilgrims each day. The Potala Palace was only slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the invading Chinese in 1959. As a result, all the chapels and their artifacts are well preserved.

More about the Potala from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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