Tibet unesco world heritage sites

Nora Zheng
1627 Words/7 Minutes, By Nora Zheng, Updated March 17, 2023

Comment from the World Heritage Committee

The Potala Palace, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism, and its central role is in traditional administration for Tibet. The complex, composed of the White and Red Palaces with ancillary buildings, is built on the Red Mountain in the center of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700 meters. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace, was constructed in the 18th century and is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, the ornamentation and integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and aesthetic charm.

The unique architectural designs of these three places won’t fail to attract visitors with their appeal. Coupled with their historic and religious significance, they combine to create a compelling landscape brimming with artistic beauty.


The Potala Palace is erected on the Red Mountain at the heart of Lhasa, the capital of China’s western Tibet Autonomous Region. Its name Potala is translated from its Sanskrit version that refers to the island where the God of Mercy lives in. It was built during the reign of the 32nd Songtsen Gampo of the Tubo Kingdom (the 7th century), it used to be referred to as the Red Mountain Palace, and was later deserted following the decline of the Tubo Kingdom. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama rebuilt a grand palace on the original site of the Red Mountain Palace  which is commonly referred to as the Potala Palace. Since then, the palace has become the political and religious center of Tibet.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace known for its large scale and the spectacular appeal was built according to the actual geographic conditions, with an area of over 360,000 meters squared, with its 13-story main building being 117 meters high. It is a renowned castle-like architecture with a Tibetan cultural aesthetic as well as outstanding ancient Tibetan architecture and Chinese architectural styles.

The main buildings of the Potala Palace include the White and Red Palaces and their surrounding supporting architectures. The architectural structure that centers the White Palace was originally completed in 1648, which was the place where generations of Dalai Lamas handled political and religious affairs. The White Palace faces the south and is 7 stories high. The architectural structure centers on the Red Palace which is central to the Potala Palace completed in 1694, altogether 6 stories. It is the place where the sacred pagodas of various Dalai Lamas are worshipped and a variety of religious activities are staged. Also, in the palace, there is the monk school, monk dormitory, and courtyards on the western and eastern sides. At the foot of the mountain, there are supporting architectures such as Xuelao City, drag-spying-Khang (the Tibetan regional government office), a scripture printing house, a prison, a stable, the backyard of the Potala Palace, and Longwang Pond (the Dragon King Lake).

Since the 5th Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace has become the winter palace for successive Dalai Lamas and the political center of Tibet where major religious and political ceremonies are held. The magnificent Potala Palace crystallizes the marvelous cultural, artistic, and religious achievements of the Tibetan, Mongolian, and Han Chinese people. Today, it is widely recognized as a symbol of the Tibetan people due to its majestic appeal and religious significance.

Jokhang Temple

The Jokhang Temple located in southeastern downtown Lhasa was originally built in the 21st year of the Zhenguan Period of the Tang Dynasty (601 AD). It has been given many names in history, ranging from the initial names such as Recha and Luoxie to Jokhang in the 9th century, which translates as a palace housing Buddhist scripts in Tibet. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), its name was changed to Yikezhao. Today, it is the oldest wooden structure with a combination of both Tibetan and Han Chinese architectural styles in the Tibetan region. It only had 8 palaces when it was originally built. It was not until the 15th century when Tsongkhapa founded Gelug, a sect of Tibetan Buddhism, that the temple started to gain ascendency. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama carried out large-scale renovation there and further expanded the temple, which took shape as a large architectural structure with an area of 25,100 meters squared.

The main structure of the Jokhang Temple is the 4-story Script Hall, with its components characterized by the Han style while the adornments are Tibetan style. The first floor of the hall worships the golden statue of Sakyamuni, which was brought by Princess Wencheng in the Tang Dynasty (618-904 AD). The second floor worships the statues of Songtsen Gampo and Princess Wencheng. The third floor is a skylight of the floor. On the fourth floor, there are four golden tops. The corridors in and outside the hall are decorated with colored paintings that expand over 2,600 meters squared, including themes such as Buddhism, historical figures, and legends. Additionally, the temple houses a large collection of precious cultural artifacts. The monument erected in front of the temple is a testament to the friendship between the Tibetan and Han Chinese people.


Norbulingka reposes by the bank of the Lhasa River, 2 kilometers to the west of the Potala Palace. The name Norbulingka itself is translated as a precious garden in Tibetan. It was built in the mid-18th century and used to be the summer palace where Dalai Lamas handled political and religious affairs. Since the 7th Dalai Lama, the successive Dalai Lamas have further expanded the palace, and among all the renovations, the ones done by the 8th and the 13th Dalai Lamas are known to be the largest. Since the expansion done by the 8th Dalai Lama, the palace was upgraded to feature the garden style. The 13th Dalai Lama constructed the “Golden Forest” and other architecture that comes in the color gold.

With an area of some 3.6 million meters squared, Norbulingka is home to over 100 species of plants, including both the local species that are commonly found in Lhasa and the exotic flowers and rare herbs native to the Himalayas. Also, there are many other precious flower species introduced from the rest of China and other regions throughout the world.

Norbulingka consists of Kelsang Phodrang, Golden Phodrang, and Dadanmignjiu Phodrang, each of which is composed of three components, particularly the palace area, the front area, and the grove area. The architectural structure with Kelsang Phodrang at its core is located southeast of the south courtyard inside the second wall. The architectural structure centering Cuoji Phodrang (Huxin Pavilion) is about 120 meters to the northwest of Kelsang Phodrang, known as the most beautiful scenic area in Norbulingka. The architectural structure whose main structure is the Golden Phodrang is situated on the western side of Norbulingka. All the buildings are mainly constructed with wood and stone materials and well-arranged inside Norbulingka, with a striking Tibetan architectural style. The walls of the main halls are found decorated with exquisite murals. Also, Norbulingka houses a collection of cultural artifacts and books.

Cultural Heritages

The Potala Palace is widely known for its palace structure, civil engineering, metallurgy, paintings, and carvings. All these offer a glimpse of the superb techniques of the Tibetan, Mongolian, and Han Chinese craftsmen as well as the great achievements of Tibetan architecture.

Superb Architectural Achievements

The Potala Palace was built according to the local geographic conditions, mainly consisting of the White and Red Palaces and the supporting architectures. Although most of the buildings were built in various historical periods, they all well fit into the actual conditions, contributing to the extraordinarily spectacular look of the palace. Also, the buildings are well arranged with superb aesthetics and architectural achievements. As a result, it was crowned as an architectural masterpiece.

Perfect Fusion of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries and Palaces

The architectural art of the Potala Palace is said to be the representative work that features the fusion of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and palaces among all the architectural structures of this kind are shining examples of a fusion that is unparalleled elsewhere.

Original Look Being Kept

The Potala Palace we see today is kept in its original look when considering design, materials, building techniques, and overall structure since its initial construction in the 7th century. It bears resemblance to major renovations and expansions taking place in history.

Great Architectural and Furnishing Arts Achievements

The Potala Palace is not only known for its innovative efforts in its architectural style and superb design as well as furnishing art (carvings and colored paintings).

Historic and Religious Significance

The Potala Palace used to be the religious and political center of Tibet, closely entwined with important historical figures such as Songtsen Gampo, Princess Wencheng, Princess Chizun, and Dalai Lamas of various generations. As a result, it is considered as having historical and religious value.

Nora Zheng

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