The Potala Palace complex in Lhasa (altitude 3,700 metres), Tibet, has been home to the Dalai Lama for centuries. The construction of the palace was commenced by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645 CE, although the original construction is thought to be from Songsten Gampo around 637 CE, the man credited with starting the Tibetan empire and introducing Buddhism to Tibet.
In Lhasa, the main Potala Palace is a vast complex of thirteen stories consisting of 1,000 rooms, 10,000 Buddhist shrines, 20,000 statues, 35 small chapels, meditation halls and various other facilities for the monks. The complex also has a dungeon and torture room. The foundations include copper which protects the complex from earthquakes. Candles are burnt throughout the palace and temples to drive away ignorance.
Tibetan Buddhism came to the region from India around the 8th century CE, and had a renaissance in the 11th century after the Indian monk Atisa visited Lhasa (1042-1054 CE) revived the original Indian sources. After the Mongol Khan converted to Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th century, he gave the title Dalai Lama (Ocean of Wisdom) on the head of the sect. When a Dalai Lama dies, the followers believe that he is reincarnated in a child, and after a search and meeting the criteria, the next Dalai Lama is revealed to the faithful. After years of training in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama is able to take on duties as the leader. The present Dalai Lama is the 14th and was born in 1935.
Near the palace is the Jokhang Temple which attracts thousands of Buddhist pilgrims every year. The temple from the 7th century is built around a large statue of the Buddha(as) sent as a wedding gift by the Chinese emperor of the time.
Location: Lhasa, Tibet
Date Opened: 637 CE
Rosemary Burton & Richard Cavendish, Wonders of the World – A Guide to the Man-Made Treasures of Civilization (UK: AA Publishing, 1991).
Mircea Eliade & Ioan Couliano, The Eliade Guide to World Religions (USA: Harper Collins, 1991).