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China Begins Restoration of Tibet's Potala Palace (06/28/02)



The biggest ever restoration program began on June 26 in Tibet as work started on two palaces of the Dalai Lamas and an ailing ancient lamasery. The 330-million-yuan (40 million US dollars) program will help prevent the 1,300-year-old Potala Palace, the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas, being eroded by wind and eaten by worms. Also on the list are the Norbuglinkha, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas, and the Sagya Lamasery which contains numerous rare religious relics.

Potala Palace is often regarded as the key landmark in Lhasa. It was first built by the Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the 7th century in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and was extended during the 17th century by the Dalai Lama, who ruled Tibet from the 13-storey building on the Red Hill 3,600 meters above sea level. The Potala Palace features the essence of ancient Tibetan architectural art and houses many artifacts of ancient Tibet.

This will be the second time work is done on the
Potala Palace where the foundations are sinking and there are 57 places  which are considered dangerous. The first large scale renovation on the Potala Palace was carried out in 1989 at a cost of 50 million yuan and took six years to complete. First built in 1073, the Sagya Lamasery has long enjoyed almost as much fame as the Dunhuang Grottoes because of its large collection of Buddhist scriptures, priceless porcelain and vivid murals dating back nearly 1,000 years. It is believed to be the birthplace of the Sagyapa (Stripped Sect) of Tibetan Buddhism. At present, cracks can be seen in many parts of the Lamasery due to damage by weather and insects.

Norbuglinkha, built in 1751, used to be the summer resort of all the Dalai Lamas. It houses 30,000 valuable cultural relics, 7,000 of which are under top government protection. It has the same problems as the
Potala Palace and the Sagya Lamasery.

Potala Place and the Norbuglinkha are now on the list of the World Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO. Tens of thousands of tourists visit them every year, making relics protection work much more difficult.

The restoration is expected to last for five years. The walls will be reinforced and some ruined palaces will be restored. A new museum will be built to house relics.

The Tibet Autonomous Region held a grand ceremony in
Lhasa Wednesday, a day which was specifically chosen as an auspicious day for earth-breaking according to the Tibetan calendar, with lamas and laymen chanting Buddhist scriptures to celebrate the start of the restoration.

"The protection program is the most extensive of its kind in
Tibet, and it will involve the biggest sum of money ever used for cultural heritage protection on the roof of the world," said Gao Qiang, deputy secretary-general of the State Council.

He said all the money will come from the central budget. The
Potala Palace will receive 170 million yuan, the Norbuglinkha, 67.4 million, and the Sagya 86.6 million.

"We will ensure the work on the project is superior by the use of up-to-the-minute technology," he said, vowing that scientists and engineers will fully preserve the original look and structure of the buildings, rather than giving them a modern look.

During the past 20-odd years, the central government and the Tibetan regional government have poured 300 million yuan in repairing 1,400 Tibetan temples and historical sites.

"I am happy with the restoration," said Nyma Cering, a lama in the Johkang Lamasery. "I believe the three sacred places will become more splendid when the work is completed."

Chongba Geshang, 78, a lama and a
Potala Palace architect, said that the restoration is to be carried out in full accordance with Tibetan rituals and he is satisfied with the government.


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