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The world famous Potala Palace is located on 'Red Hill', to the west of old Lhasa. It was originally built in the 640's, during the reign of King Songtsan Gampo. The 13-story palace stands 117 meters high and has over 1000 rooms. It covers an area of 130,000 square meters. The entire building is made of stone and wood, with walls averaging 3 meters thick.
The Red Palace contains various chapels and mausoleums for previous Dalai Lamas. The 5th Dalai Lama's mausoleum is in the west part of the palace and is 5-storeys high. His enormous Chorten is gold-covered and inlaid with diamonds, pearls, turquoise, agate and coral. The whole structure stands 14 meters high.
The White Palace contains the living quarters of successive Dalai Lamas and their tutors. The offices of the old Tibetan government and their assembly halls are also located here. The original Potala was destroyed in the 9th century, during the end of the Tubo Kingship era. It was rebuilt during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama and completed in the late 17th century. It became known as the 'Winter Palace' in the 1750's, when the 7th Dalai Lama built the Norbulingka Park as his summer residence.
The Potala is full of elaborate artwork and frescos that tell many stories. They portray religious subjects as well as the customs and traditions of Tibet. The frescos in the west hall depict the life story of the 5th Dalai Lama. One picture describes an important meeting between the 5th Dalai Lama and the Chinese Emperor Shun Zhi in 1652. It was after this meeting that the title 'Dalai Lama' was bestowed on him and successive leaders of Tibet.
The Potala contains many precious works of art, including ornately decorated statues, sculptures and Tibetan painting. The topmost hall in the Potala is called 'Sasong Langjie'. It contains a portrait of the Qing Emperor 'Qianlong' bearing the words 'A long, long life to the present emperor' written in Han, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan. Dalai Lamas came to pay homage to this portrait on each Tibetan New Year's Day. The Potala has been a sacred place for hundreds of years. Thousands of pilgrims from Tibet, other parts of China and abroad come every year to pay homage. Their devotion is shown by the difficult journeys they make to reach their 'Holy city.'
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