Named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, the Potala Palace dates back to the 7th century. King Songtsen Gampo built the original structure, but it wasn’t until 1642 that the fifth Dalai Lama rebuilt the palace and moved his government here. The palace housed ten Dalai Lamas over 317-years until 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the Tibetan uprising. The former imperial palace, government seat and monastery is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Tibet’s top tourist attractions. Piqued your interest? Here are seven interesting facts about the Potala Palace you might not already know.
Interesting facts about the Potala Palace in Llasa, Tibet
1. It will always be the tallest building in the region
The Potala Palace is one of the world’s largest palaces, sprawling across an impressive 130,000 sq. metres (1,399,308 sq. ft). It’s also the highest ancient palace in the world. Set 117 metres (384 feet) high in a mountain, it’s a hefty 432 steps clamber to the front gate alone. The thirteen storey palace contains over 1,000 rooms and around 200,000 statues. Between 1653 and 1889, it was the world’s tallest occupied building from 1653 to 1889.
As a mark of respect for the holy site, no building in Lhasa is taller than the palace.
2. It was empty for eight centuries
King Songstan Gampo, the 33rd King of Tubo, moved his capital to Lhasa in 7 AD and built a sumptuous palace to house his court. But in 9 AD, with the demise of the Tubo Kingdom, the whole city was deserted – along with the palace. The palace remained empty for eight centuries.
3. It’s painted with something a little unusual…
Every year, before the 22nd day of the ninth month of the year, the palace wall’s get a fresh lick of paint. So far, so normal, right? Wrong. It’s not actually paint, it’s a mixture of milk, sugar, honey, herbs and white lime.
It takes around ten days to complete the job, but up until fairly recently, it took as long as a month to cover the entire surface.
4. It’s home to a fair few mummies
There are eight holy stupas in the Potala Palace. These are actually the Dalai Lamas’ tombs, covering the mummified bodies of eight Dalai Lamas’. Each of the stupas are lavishly decorated with gold, pearls, coral and diamonds. The stupa dedicated to the 5th Dalai lama really stands out; it’s coated with more than 3,700 kg of gold and over 18,000 jewels.
5. It was a present
The original palace 1,300-year old structure, which was much smaller than the current building, was actually a gift from the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo to his bride-to-be, Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. Cute.
6. The Poltala Palace is actually two palaces
The palace actually comprises two different palaces with two different functions – the White Palace and the Red Palace.
The older White Palace once served as the offices for the Tibetan government, assembly halls and the Dalai Lama’s living quarters.
The newer Red Palace is devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer, once serving as the Dalai Lama’s place of worship. It’s the larger and taller of the two, consisting of various halls, chapels, libraries and galleries along its winding passages.
7. Daily admittance numbers are capped
In order to protect the palace, authorities cap numbers at 2,300 people per day – so make sure you book your ticket in advance! All visitors must visit the Potala Palace with a tour group. Groups are allocated an hour inside the premises and photos are not allowed.