The spiritual center of Tibet can be found within the walls of Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s first Buddhist temple. Tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to the center of Lhasa annually to pray at the temple, which is regarded as the holiest site in Tibet. As part of the Potala Palace complex, Jokhang Temple occupies over 25,000sq meters.
King Songtsen Gampo, the 33rd King of Tibet, ruled during the Tang Dynasty, a period of great prosperity and progress both politically and economically. King Gampo actively promoted the spread of Buddhism during this period. In an effort to strengthen relations with neighboring countries, he married Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, as well as Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty. Each wife arrived in Tibet bearing the gift of a statue of Jowo Sakyamuni. In order to house the statures the king built two temples; Little Jokhang, and Jokhang, which were completed in 647. Although the original complex housed only 8 shrines, it underwent multiple renovations during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, expanding to the grand scale that it is today.
The temple was erected on the former site of a lake, and legend holds that numerous attempts to build the temple resulted in collapse prior to choosing the lake as the final site for Jokhang. In order to construct the temple upon the lake, legend says that Wen Cheng advised that the lake be filled and leveled using soil carried by 1,000 sheep from a far distant mountain. Upon its completion the temple became known as Ra Sa Vphurl Snang, meaning “sheep of the earth”. As the city of Ra Sa grew to surround the temple over time, it became known as Lhasa, the holy land.
The temple itself was built from timber planks and rises four stories, capped with a golden top. Its architectural influences include Tibetan, Nepalese, and Tang Dynasty styles.