Regarded as Tibet’s greatest monumental structure, the Potala Palace rises 170 meters above the Lhasa Valley atop Marpo Ri Hill.
Legend surrounds the history of the palace, revealing stories of sacred caves, ancient dwellings, and meditation retreats. The first palace on the hill was built by Songtsen Gampo in 637, and remained standing until the 17th century, when it was fortified by the foundations of surrounding structures. The palace that exists today was constructed in 1645 under the command of the 5th Dali Lama. It was completed in two sections; the Potrang kampo, or White Palace, and the Potrang Marpo, or Red Palace. More than 7,000 laborers and 1,500 artisans and craftsmen aided in the construction of the palace. The 13th Dali Lama oversaw extensive renovations and new construction in 1933, adding chapels, assembly halls, and two levels to the Red Palace. In 1959 the palace withstood minimal damages during the Tibetan uprisings. The chapels and artifacts within the palace have been carefully preserved throughout the centuries, escaping occupation and destruction at the hand of invaders.
The complex became known as Potala in the 11th century, deriving its name form Mt. Potala, a mythological mountain in southern India known as the home of Bodhisaitva Chenresi. The palace’s founder, Songtsen Gampo, was regarded as an incarnate of Chenresi.
The interior spaces of the palace cover more than 130,000sq meters. The palace has functioned as the residence of the Dali Lama, the seat of the Tibetan Government where all ceremonies and stately functions were held, a training school for monks and administrators, and one of the country’s most honored pilgrimage sites. The most sacred chapels on the site are found in the White Palace and are known as the Phakpa Lhakang and the Chogyal Drubphuk. Thousands of pilgrims visit the sacred structure daily to witness it’s magnificent beauty and pray at its holy steps.