The Potala Palace is a large palace in Lahsa (AKA Lhasa) in Tibet, China, that originally served as the residence of the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Since the Dalai Lama fled to India following the Maoist takeover of Tibet in the 1950s, the palace has become a museum and tourist attraction.

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The fifth Dalai Lama, Lozano Gyatso, began the construction of the palace in 1645, avert being convinced that this would be the perfect location for the seat of the Tibetan government.

While the exterior of the building was completed in just three years, it took 45 years to finish the interior. The construction was not done until twelve years after the fifth Dalai Lama had died.

During the revolt of the Tibetans against the Chinese conquerors in 1959, the palace was damaged after the Chinese military fired shells into the windows. The building was preserved during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but many of the documents, artworks and artefacts kept inside were stolen (although reports of how much was stolen are inconsistent).

The palace became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. UNESCO quickly became concerned about modern buildings in Lhasa encroaching on the base of the palace and ruining its unique look. In the early 1990s, tall modern buildings were banned from being constructed around the base, and extensive restoration works also took place.

The number of visitors allowed onto the site had been heavily restricted since the early 2000s to preserve the efforts of the restoration.

Architecture of the Palace

The palace is built into the side of Red Mountain in the Lhasa valley, at an elevation of over 12000 feet. It is one of the highest palaces in the world, and visitors often experience oxygen deprivation as a result.

The walls are massive and slope steeply, with many rows of small square windows. The many flat roofs that line the front give the palace the look of some kind of military fortress.

The whole structure sits on top of a huge rock, in front of which is a wide open space that is enclosed by walls and gates. The top of the rock can be only be reached by climbing one of several large staircases. The staircases are steep but manageable, with some less steep sections to allow resting.

The middle part of the building is a dark red structure known as the red palace which contains the halls, chapels and shrines that were the property of the previous Dalai Lamas when they occupied the palace. In these rooms one can find a great deal of exquisite artwork including paintings, jewellery and carvings.