Constructed in the 7th Century, home to a government, a religious pilgrimage site, the residence of the Dalai Lama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and located at twelve thousand feet above sea level, Potala Palace is an amazing architectural feat and the most important building in Tibet. The palace is admired as the symbol of Tibet as well as an illustration for the religious struggle for purification. Influences, both ancient and unexpected, relate this sacred symbol in stone to the rest of the world, both new and ancient, with a classic architectural language, which is paramount to any social or political society.
Potala Palace’s construction began in 637, using the building construction techniques of rammed earth and stone. The original building on the site of Potala Palace was the dwelling of Tibet’s founder, Songtsan Gampo. The palace was built to greet the arrival of his wife. The marriage was part of a move to solidify an alliance with China’s Tang Dynasty. The architectural tradition of buildings such as pyramids, ziggurats, and a palace such as this one suggests a combined sensibility from Europe to eastern Asia to Africa, this coming together is no more evident than a place like Potala Palace, as well as other locations in Tibet.
The Potala Palace has seen its fair share of controversy, as Tibet is a very controversial part of the world. When Communist China invaded Tibet in 1950 with over eighty thousand troops, massive protests were held at the palace. It has been estimated that about one million people have been killed since the Chinese occupation and the exile of Tibetan government officials. During this time, the treasures of Potala were stolen and priceless, irreplaceable historical documents and artifacts lost. Even with six thousand monasteries getting destroyed during the Mao’s ‘culture revolution, Potala Palace was still preserved and China started a renovation project on the palace at a cost over six million dollars. Less than a decade later, it was named a World Heritage Site.
Potala Palace does not necessarily have a historical precedent in the form of a built structure, however it does have a precedent in the flag of Tibet. The two lions on the flag represent religious and secular rule, they raise the red flame which represents truth, virtue, and Buddah toward the holy sun in the background. Red and blue stripes shoot out from the sun and top of the white pyramid. Potala Palace rises up like a white pyramid to elevate a red temple below a golden roof. The twelve stripes on the flag the original twelve tribes of Tibet. Other influences on the Potala Palace come from India’s Buddhism, but this influence was all received before the twelve century, as Tibet was isolated from India from that point on, with Tibet’s forms developing and evolving on its own.
The architects and artists of Potala Palace are anonymous due to the Buddhist belief in impermanence,...