The world famous Potala Palace is located to the west of old Lhasa. It is a huge treasure house for materials and articles of Tibetan history, religion, culture and arts. The Palace is widely known for the precious sculptures, murals, scripture, Buddha figures, murals, antiques, and religious jewelry treasured up, they are of great cultural and artistic value. Destroyed by lightning and war, Potala Palace had been rebuilt by the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1645. Since then, Potala Palace has become the seat of Dalai Lamas and also the political center of Tibet. In 1994, the Potala Palace was declared the United Nations World Cultural Heritage site.It was originally built in the 640's, during the reign of King Songtsan Gampo.
In the middle of the Potala Palace the Red Palace exists. Built in 1690 after the death of the Fifth Dailai Lama, the wall of the palace was painted to red, representing stateliness and power. The Red Palace is renowned for its religious status, gorgeous stupas and precious culture relics. The Great West Hall in the middle is the largest hall of Potala Palace with an area of 725 sq meters (about 7,804 sq ft). Beautiful murals painted on inner walls described the glory and power of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and the corridor upstairs is also painted by many religious murals such as the figures of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Dalai Lamas; the genetic stories of Buddhism; the historical events such as marrying Princess Wencheng and building Jokhang Temple. One of the most famous murals described the Fifth Dalai Lama's visit to Emperor Shunzhi in Beijing in1652. There are another three chapels around the Great West Hall. The North Chapel is dedicated to Sakyamuni, Dalai Lamas, Buddhas of Three Generations and Medicine Buddha. The stupa-tombs of the Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Dalai Lama are also situated here. Besides, Visitors can also find a volume of Kanjur (Beijing Edition) donated by Emperor Yongzheng on the bookshelf. The East Chapel is consecrate to Tsong Khapa, founder of the Yellow Hat Sect. His two-meter-high (6.56 ft) figure is surrounded by other 70 statues of famous lamas. The South Chapel is dedicated to Padmasambhava, a famous Indian monk who introduced Esoteric Buddhism to Tibet in eighth century. To the west of the Great West Hall is the Stupa Chapel where the stupa-tombs of the Fifth, the Tenth and the Twelfth Dalai Lamas are situated in. With a height of 14.85 meters (about 48.72 ft), covered by more than 3,000 kilograms (about 6,613pounds) gold foil and decorated with thousands of pearls, gems, corals, ambers and agates, the Fifth Dalai Lama's stupa-tomb is regarded to be the highest and the most luxury one. The Three-world Hall, which is located on the highest point of Potala Palace, is the holy shrine of Chinese Emperors. It was built in 1690 and Dalai Lamas used to come here to show their respect to the central government every year.
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 Dalai Lama and his government moved into the Potrang Karpo ('White Palace') in 1649. Construction lasted until 1694, some twelve years after his death. The Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time. The Potrang Marpo ('Red Palace') was added between 1690 and 1694. "The new palace got its name from a hill on Cape Comorin at the southern tip of India—a rocky point sacred to the God of Mercy, whom the Indians call Avalokitesvara and the Tibetans worship as Chenrezi. The Tibetans themselves rarely speak of the sacred place as the "Potala," but rather as "Peak Potala" (Tse Potala), or usually as "the Peak."
The palace was slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, when Chinese shells were launched into the palace's windows. It also escaped damage during the Cultural Revolution in 1966 through the personal intervention of Zhou Enlai, who was then the Premier of the People's Republic of China but who personally opposed the revolution. Still, almost all of the over 100,000 volumes of scriptures, historical documents and other works of art were either removed, damaged or destroyed.
The Potala Palace was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. In 2000 and 2001, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka were added to the list as extensions to the sites. Rapid modernisation has been a concern for UNESCO, however, which expressed concern over the building of modern structures immediately around the palace which threaten the palace's unique atmosphere. The Chinese government responded by enacting a rule barring the building of any structure taller than 21 metres in the area. UNESCO was also concerned over the materials used during the restoration of the palace, which commenced in 2002 at a cost of RMB180 million (US$22.5 million), although the palace's director, Qiangba Gesang, has clarified that only traditional materials and craftsmanship were used. The palace has also received restoration works between 1989 to 1994, costing RMB55 million (US$6.875 million).
Daily visitorship to the palace was restricted to 1,600 a day, with opening hours reduced to six hours daily to avoid over-crowding from 1 May 2003. The palace was receiving an average of 1,500 a day prior to the introduction of the quota, sometimes peaking to over 5,000 in one day. Visits to the structure's roof was banned after restoration works were completed in 2006 to avoid further structural damage. Visitorship quotas were raised to 2,300 daily to accommodate a 30% increase in visitorship since the opening of the Qingzang railway into Lhasa on 1 July 2006, but the quota is often reached by mid-morning. Opening hours were extended during the peak period in the months of July to September, where over 6,000 visitors would descend on the site.