The Potala Palace is seated at the top of the Red hill in Lhasa City proper, covers an area of 41 hectares. It is Lhasa' cardinal landmark and can be seen from all directions for miles around.
“Potala” is the transliteration of Putoluogya in Sanskrit, a language in the abode of Lord Avolokitesvara, which indicates that he delivers all living creatures from the torment.
The Potala Palace was built by Tubo King Songtsan Gambo in the 7th century. It underwent renovation during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lhosang Gyamco in the 17th century. However, the Potala Palace didn't undergo a thorough repair until the 1980s. Standing atop the Red Hill, the Potala Palace was built along the slope of the hill. It extends 360 meters from east to west and 140 meters from south to north. Rising 13 stories, the palace is 115.7 meters tall. Palace walls were erected with granite slabs, the thickest part measuring five meters.
The Potala Palace is made up by the White and Red Palaces, with the Red Palace in the center flanked on both sides by the White Palace. The Red Palace houses Buddha halls and stupas for the remains of the successive generations of the Dalai Lama. The White Palace, built entirely of granite slabs, is where the Dalai Lamas of various generations live and handle government and Buddhist affairs. Its western wing contains dorms for monks. When visitors reach the Potala Palace from the south, they will arrive at the giant City Gate and Shoi Village, which holds many ancient buildings down a zigzagging stone path leading to the Puncog Duinam Gate. Upon going through the gate, they will reach the Deyang Hall Square, where various generations of the Dalai Lama, senior monks and lay officials watched Tibetan opera, singers and dance performances. East of the square is Zelhazha, the site of the old monk official school, and west of the square is the gate to the White House. Many priceless frescoes hang on the walls of the entrance hall, some depicting the construction of the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Monastery in the 7th century, and others illustrating the story of Tubo Minister Gar Tongtsan going to Chang'an (present-day Xi'an and capital of the Tang Dynasty) to greet Tang Princess Wencheng upon her arrival in Lhasa, where she married Tubo King Songtsan Gambo.
Coqenxag, the Eastern Hall, is where many generations of Dalai Lamas came to power and were enthroned upon reaching the stipulated age of 18. A horizontal board reading “Promoting Buddhism in Defense of the Border”, written by Qing Dynasty Emperor Tongzhi, hangs above the entrance. The top floor contains two living chambers. As they enjoy sunshine all day long, the chambers are called the West Sunshine Hall (also called Nyiwei Soinam Legyi, which used to be the living chambers for the 13th Dalai Lama) and the East Sunshine Hall (also called Gaindain Namse, which used to be the living chambers for the 14th Dalai Lama). Major buildings of the Red Palace include the Hall for the Holy Stupas. The largest of the holy stupas is for the 5th Dalai Lama. Called Choiling Gyamgyia, “a grand building in the world”, the stupa is 14.85 meters tall. Its base and body are wrapped in 110,000 taels of gold and inlaid with 1,500 gems. The Red Palace also holds a Western Hall. Also called Sishi Puncog, the Western Hall houses the stupa for the 5th Dalai Lama and its interior is a world of frescos telling stories of his life. One section depicts the 5th Dalai Lama paying homage to Qing Dynasty Emperor Shunzhi in Beijing in 1652. Galleries on each floor of the Red Palace contain many frescoes. The gallery on the second floor contains even more frescoes, including one which tells of the first construction of the Potala Palace through the commissioning of the Red Palace and the holding of the Lessor Grand Summons Ceremony. The highest point of the Red Palace is the Hall of Deterrence to the Three Worlds, or the Sasum Namgyal Hall. This hall enshrines the portrait of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty and an imperial longevity tablet written in the four languages of Han, Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchurian.
Between the Red and White Palaces is Qoigyi Zhapu, or the Cave for the Prince of Dharma. Legend has it that this was the place Tubo King Songtsan Gambo and his wives Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng and Nepalese Princess Bhributi practiced Buddhism. The statues of Songtsan Gambo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Bhributi, Mangsa Trijang, and Tubo Ministers Tome Sangbozha and Gar Tongtsan are enshrined inside the cave. Pagpa Lhakhang, the Hall of the Goddess of Mercy, which was built much earlier than other halls in the palace, is located at the top of Qoigyi Zhapu. Above the entrance is a panel with an inscription reading “Blissful Soil Nourishing Miraculous Fruits”, also written by Qing Dynasty Emperor Tongzhi.
On the top of the Potala Palace are seven of what we call Golden Tops, glistening in the sunshine. They follow Tibetan and Han architectural styles, and make the Potala Palace majestic and holy. Inside the palace are preserved numerous Buddhist scriptures, tangka painting scrolls, statues of Buddha, sculptures, brocades and silks produced during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), chinaware, gold and silver wares, golden sheets of appointment and golden seals of authority, which emperors of feudal Chinese rulers granted to Dalai Lamas of various generations, as well as a golden urn called Jinbenbaping, which Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong had cast in his 57th year of reign (1792) for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni. When one of the two Living Buddhas has demised, his soul boy would be determined by drawing a lot from the golden urn.