|Transport:||Beijing Zhong Lu, Tibet|
As far back as more than 1,300 years ago in 640, Princess Wencheng (Emperor Taizong’s niece) of the Tang Dynasty came to Tibet to join in marriage with Prince Songtsan Gampo (617?-650). With her help, Songtsan Gambo established administration and military systems in Tibet. For her living quarters, a palace with 1,000 rooms was constructed on the Red Hill slope and given the name Potala, which means Avalokitasvara, a holy place of Buddhism. The original building was ruined. In the 17th century, the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682) gave order to have it rebuilt and since then it has served as the holy residence of the successive Dalai Lama.
The Potala Palace covers an area of 360,000 square meters, with over 2,000 rooms and 34 Buddha halls. The last large repair project in the palace was conducted in the period 1989 to 1994, when the central government allocated altogether 55 million yuan (US $ 6.65 million). After the repairs, the Potala Palace shines more brilliantly atop the Red Hill.
However, as the palace is hundreds of years old, its maintenance is a constant agenda item. Repairs reinforced the major part of the palace, but the architectural complex, totaling more than 2,000 halls, and cells for regular maintenance. Major efforts need to be made to solve the problems of deformation and collapse of walls, and insect’s infestation of the wooden structure, as well as the rain damage to the roofs.
Without changing the original nature of the cultural relics, efforts must be made to reinforce them, such as adding reinforcing bars in the walls and concealed iron hooks in wooden beams. Carpenters, painters, and stonemasons and tailors were organized to repair a dozen projects, and make 500-square-meter sutra cabinets and over 200 boxes for cultural relics. Whitewashing the walls, extending 100 meters or more from top to the ground, calls for more than 50 tons of limestone and red powder.
In the Potala Palace, there are a total of 57 butter lamp tenders. Unlike lamas in monasteries, they seldom get together to recite sutras and pray for blessings. They are put in charge of a certain number of Buddhas and the reception of pilgrims and visitors. In addition, they are charged with the mission of looking after cultural relics and working to prevent theft and fire damage.
The Potala Palace, an almost totally wooden structure, receives its light from butter lamps. This form of lighting, plus the fluttering silk sutra streamers, poses a fire hazard. The Potala Palace Administration works painstakingly to prevent accidents. In 1994, some 4.7 million yuan (US $ 566,000) was invested to install a TV monitoring system operating 24 hours a day, thanks to the effort, no fire has occurred since 1988. On December 7, 1994, UNESCO listed Potala Palace as one of the World Heritages.
The world-famous Potala Palace had never been surveyed to reveal how many rooms lay within its 13-storey labyrinth. The Potala Administrative Office began checking out the rooms, doors, windows and pillars of the palace in 1994. Experts estimate that the audit of the Potala Palace’s relics might take another five years. It will be more complicated and massive than the actual restoration. The Potala Palace is a huge museum filled with cultural relics, including the Holy Stupa for the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682), which is wrapped up in 5.5million grams of gold and inlaid with numerous gems. However, these are not registered and recorded. Efforts are being made to register them.
The Chinese Government spent 4.9 million yuan (US $ 590,000) to further protect Potala Palace from fires. In the first stage of the project, which ran from 1989 to 1994, the central government spent 53 million yuan (US $ 6.4 million) and donated tons of gold to give the Potala Palace a facelift and its various treasures. For more than 300 years before 1989 no major repairs were made. Tibet has many cultural relics of the country, which are found on more than 1,700 sites. Eighteen are listed on the state protection list. Since the 1950s, the Chinese Government has spent more than 200 million yuan (US $ 24 million) on the preservation of important Tibetan religious sites other than Potala Palace. Experts in history, ancient architecture and geology will conduct surveys to prepare more detailed protection plans for the Potala Palace.
The second phase of the renovation project, which will be finished in 2006, will be a supplement to the first phase. The emphasis of the second renovation will be placed on the “snowy city” at the foot of the Red Hill, which was not given much attention to in the first phase.
Up till 2001 more than 300 families had lived in the snowy city, which was once home to Tibetan nobles. Another 15 sites on the Red Hill will be refurbished in the second phase of repair work. Most of these sites did have a facelift in the first phase. Among them are the main buildings of the Potala: the Red Palace and the White Palace. Rats in these sites has been cleared out, fire-fighting control systems and drainage systems have been installed, cracking walls have been repaired, and the public conveniences renovated.
In the first phase, engineers paid much attention to traditional Tibetan and Han techniques to protect the structural art of the Palace. For example, they plastered layers of butter on the roof to make it waterproof. This technique has been long applied in Tibetan architecture. However, roofs treated in this way tend to leak water in torrential rains, since the hardened soil, which the roofs are made of, melts quickly in the water. In the second phase of the repair project, the engineers add a special chemical to the hardened soil that had been placed on the roofs. Technology has also been applied on the wooden structures in the Palace.
Each piece of the wooden structures has been treated in order to keep rats away. The new techniques applied did not harm the art or the structure of the Palace. The art of the Palace and its religious systems were among the first to be protected in the second phase of the renovation project. The purpose of renovating the Palace is to remove the danger without losing the original grandeur of the ancient shrine. Such was the case of the first restoration in the period 1989 to 1994. Meticulous efforts were made to protect the statues, scriptures and other relics from being damaged. Big statues and sculptures were covered in fine layers of cloth, sponge, wooden frames, canvas and sheets of iron, while smaller items were moved out of the way and looked after by the monks.
No damage was done to the 100,000 art works in the Palace in the first phase. This was a miracle in the history of cultural property maintenance. In the second facelift of the Potala Palace, which began in 2002, experts abandoned the use of cement, and instead added chemicals to the hardened soil that formed the palace roof, successfully preventing it from leaking without altering its ancient structure.
The Potala Palace, a mystical religious marvel perched on the roof of the world, will greet global visitors with a refined face when its largest ever face-lift is completed in five years. The project started on June 26, 2002. It is a key landmark in Lhasa, has been reinforced to strengthen it against wind erosion and boring insects. The ambitious restoration project will cost 330 million yuan (US $ 40 million).
The restoration work has been in any way altered the original appearance of the palace. Also on the renovation list are the Norbulinkha, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas, and the Sagya Lamasery, which contains numerous rare religious relics. Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo first built the Potala Palace in the seventh century in the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
It was expanded during the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama, who ruled Tibet from the Potala Palace on the Red Hill, 3,600 meters above seas level. The Potala Palace embodies the essence of ancient Tibetan architectural art and houses many artifacts of ancient Tibet. This will be the second time for restoration work to be done on the Potala Palace. At present the foundations are sinking, and many halls are considered dangerous. A total of 333.3 million yuan (US $ 40.3 million) of state investment has been fed into the restoration of the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery and Norbulingka in Tibet.