Lhasa Prefecture - Architecture and Cityscape

Architecture and Cityscape

Lhasa has many sites of historic interest, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery and Norbulingka. The Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Norbulingka are UNESCO world heritage sites. However, many important sites were damaged or destroyed mostly, but not solely, during China's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Many have been restored since the 1980s.

The Potala Palace, named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara, was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama. After the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the government converted the palace into a museum. The site was used as a meditation retreat by King Songtsen Gampo, who in 637 built the first palace there in order to greet his bride Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty of China. Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started the construction of the Potala Palace in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (d. 1646), pointed out that the site was ideal as a seat of government, situated as it is between Drepung and Sera monasteries and the old city of Lhasa. The palace underwent restoration works between 1989 to 1994, costing RMB55 million (US$6.875 million) and was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

The graceful Lhasa Zhol Pillar, below the Potala, dates as far back as circa 764 CE. and is inscribed with what may be the oldest known example of Tibetan writing. The pillar contains dedications to a famous Tibetan general and gives an account of his services to the king including campaigns against China which culminated in the brief capture of the Chinese capital Chang'an (modern Xian) in 763 CE during which the Tibetans temporarily installed as Emperor a relative of Princess Jincheng Gongzhu (Kim-sheng Kong co), the Chinese wife of Trisong Detsen's father, Me Agtsom.

Chokpori, meaning 'Iron Mountain', is a sacred hill, located south of the Potala. It is considered to be one of the four holy mountains of central Tibet and along with two other hills in Lhasa represent the "Three Protectors of Tibet.", Chokpori (Vajrapani), Pongwari (Manjushri), and Marpori (Chenresig or Avalokiteshvara). It was the site of the most famous medical school Tibet, known as the Mentsikhang, which was founded in 1413. It was conceived of by Lobsang Gyatso, the "Great" 5th Dalai Lama, and completed by the Regent Sangye Gyatso (Sangs-rgyas rgya-mtsho) shortly before 1697.

Lingkhor is a sacred path, most commonly used to name the outer pilgrim road in Lhasa matching its inner twin, Barkhor. The Lingkhor in Lhasa was 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) long enclosing Old Lhasa, the Potala and Chokpori hill. In former times it was crowded with men and women covering its length in prostrations, beggars and pilgrims approaching the city for the first time. The road passed through willow-shaded parks where the Tibetans used to picnic in summer and watch open air operas on festival days. New Lhasa has obliterated most of Lingkhor, but one stretch still remains west of Chokpori.

The Norbulingka palace and surrounding park is situated in the west side of Lhasa, a short distance to the southwest of Potala Palace and with an area of around 36 hectares (89 acres), it is considered to be the largest man made garden in Tibet. It was built from 1755. and served as the traditional summer residence of the successive Dalai Lamas until the 14th's self-imposed exile. Norbulingka was declared a ‘National Important Cultural Relic Unit”, in 1988 by the State council. In 2001, the Central Committee of the Chinese Government in its 4th Tibet Session resolved to restore the complex to its original glory. The Sho Dun Festival (popularly known as the "yogurt festival") is an annual festival held at Norbulingka during the seventh Tibetan month in the first seven days of the Full Moon period, which corresponds to dates in July/August according to the Gregorian calendar.

The Barkhor is an area of narrow streets and a public square in the old part of the city located around Jokhang Temple and was the most popular devotional circumabulation for pilgrims and locals. The walk was about one kilometre long and encircled the entire Jokhang, the former seat of the State Oracle in Lhasa called the Muru Nyingba Monastery, and a number of nobles' houses including Tromzikhang and Jamkhang. There were four large incense burners (sangkangs) in the four cardinal directions, with incense burning constantly, to please the gods protecting the Jokhang. Most of the old streets and buildings have been demolished in recent times and replaced with wider streets and new buildings. Some buildings in the Barkhor were damaged in the 2008 unrest.

The Jokhang is located on Barkhor Square in the old town section of Lhasa. For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. It is in some regards pan-sectarian, but is presently controlled by the Gelug school. Along with the Potala Palace, it is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Lhasa. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace," and a spiritual centre of Lhasa. This temple has remained a key center of Buddhist pilgrimage for centuries. The circumabulation route is known as the "kora" in Tibetan and is marked by four large stone incense burners placed at the corners of the temple complex. The Jokhang temple is a four-story construction, with roofs covered with gilded bronze tiles. The architectural style is based on the Indian vihara design, and was later extended resulting in a blend of Nepalese and Tang Dynasty styles. It possesses the statues of Chenresig, Padmasambhava and King Songtsan Gambo and his two foreign brides, Princess Wen Cheng (niece of Emperor Taizong of Tang China) and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and other important items.

Ramoche Temple is considered the most important temple in Lhasa after the Jokhang Temple. Situated in the northwest of the city, it is east of the Potala and north of the Jokhang, covering a total area of 4,000 square meters (almost one acre). The temple was gutted and partially destroyed in the 1960s and its famous bronze statue disappeared. In 1983 the lower part of it was said to have been found in a Lhasa rubbish tip, and the upper half in Beijing. They have now been joined and the statue is housed in the Ramoche Temple, which was partially restored in 1986, and still showed severe damage in 1993. Following the major restoration of 1986, the main building in the temple now has three stories.

The Tibet Museum in Lhasa is the official museum of the Tibet Autonomous Region and was inaugurated on October 5, 1999. It is the first large-sized modern museum in the Tibet Autonomous Region and has a permanent collection of around 1000 artefacts, from examples of Tibetan art to architectural design throughout history such as Tibetan doors and beams. It is located in an L-shaped building, located directly below the Potala Palace on the corner of Norbulingkha Road. The museum is structured into three main sections: a main exhibition hall, a folk cultural garden and an administrative quarter.

The Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was unveiled in the Potala Square in May 2002 to celebrate the 51st anniversary of the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, and the work in the development of the autonomous region since then. The 37-metre-high concrete monument is shaped as an abstract Mount Everest and its name is engraved with the calligraphy of former president Jiang Zemin, while an inscription describes the socioeconomic development experienced in Tibet in the past fifty years.

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