The Potala Palace is the symbol of Lhasa and Tibet
and the golden roof and white walls of this 1,000 room palace and
fortress stand proudly above the ancient streets of old Lhasa. It
is the grandest example of Tibetan architecture and was first built
in the 7th century by King Songtsan Gambo (617-650).
Most of the present building was constructed during
the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama (1645-1693). The Potala Palace was
built at the top of Red Hill which is 300 meters (1,000ft) above
the floor of the valley. The palace itself is an impressive 13 storys
high and covers an area of 41 hectares.
As the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, the Potala Palace was composed of two palaces with different functions. The White Palace was the center of government and contained the living quarters for lamas, regents and tutors as well as a seminary and a large printing house. The Red Palace was dedicated to religion and contained hundreds of intricately decorated shrines and chortens featuring all the main icons of Tibetan Buddhism. The tombs of 8 Dalai Lamas, the monks’ assembly halls, libraries and chapels are all found in the Red Palace.
The Potala Palace is now open to the public as a state museum though not all parts are open to visitors and pilgrims.