Tibet is home to three UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites, all in the capital city, Lhasa. These three places–the Potala Palace, the Norbulingka Palace, and the Jokhang Temple–are all fixtures on Tibet sightseeing itineraries, and are well-worth visiting. UNESCO states that “the beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.” Here are a few things you should know about Tibet’s World Heritage Sites.
Lhasa’s iconic Potala Palace was originally built in the 7th century, and then developed in the 17th century into the grand, sprawling palace complex that it is now. It was home to the Dalai Lamas–the kings of Tibet and heads of Tibetan Buddhism–between the 17th and mid-20th century.
As well as the impressive exterior views, the smaller chapels, meditation rooms and living quarters inside are just as beautiful and interesting. UNESCO mentions that the palace contains 698 murals, almost 10,000 painted scrolls, numerous sculptures, carpets, canopies, curtains, porcelain, jade, and fine objects of gold and silver, as well as a large collection of sutras and important historical documents. There is a lot to see here.
If you’re travelling in Tibet after flying into Lhasa from Kathmandu, you will probably visit the Potala Palace during your second or third day in Tibet. This is because visiting requires walking up a lot of steps, which can be too tiring for those who have just arrived in the high-altitude city.
The Potala Palace became a World Heritage Site in 1994.
The Norbulingka was the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, and is surrounded by well-landscaped gardens. It was built from 1755. The whole complex comprises four palaces, a monastery, and numerous halls and pavilions over 36 hectares. The buildings are a unique example of Tibetan palace architecture. The gardens are generally considered to be the finest of their kind in the whole of Tibet.
It receives far fewer visitors that the other two sites listed here, as it is not in central Lhasa but around 2-3 kilometres west of the Potala Palace. It became a World Heritage Site in 2001.
The Jhokang, in the centre of Lhasa’s old Tibetan town, is the holiest temple in Tibet. It is run by the Gelug school of Buddhism, but is open to worshippers from all sects of Buddhism.
The oldest parts of the building date from 652, but it was built over many centuries. Its architectural style is influenced by Indian and Nepali styles, as well as Tibetan. Inside you can see lots of Buddhist statues and mandalas, but perhaps the most attractive feature is the view from the flat rooftop. You can look down on Barkhor Square below, where Tibetan devotees flock to the temple, and look across to the Potala Palace and the hills in the distance.
The Jhokang became a World Heritage Site in 2000, as an extension of the Potala Palace heritage site.
Top image: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr
For information on touring the monasteries of further afield in Tibet, read this article: