Lhasa is a city and administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The main urban area of Lhasa is roughly equivalent to the administrative borders of Chengguan District, which is part of the wider Lhasa prefecture-level city, an area formerly administered as a prefecture. Lhasa is the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau after Xining and, at an altitude of 3,490 metres, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. The city has been the religious and administrative capital of Tibet since the mid-17th century. It contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka Palaces.
The Potala Palace (shown here) was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. It is now a museum and World Heritage Site. The palace is named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. The 5th Dalai Lama started its construction in 1645 after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (died 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. It may overlay the remains of an earlier fortress called the White or Red Palace on the site, built by Songtsän Gampo in 637.
The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m thick, and 5 m thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes. Thirteen stories of buildings (containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues) soar 117 metres on top of Marpo Ri, the "Red Hill", rising more than 300 m in total above the valley floor. Tradition has it that the three main hills of Lhasa represent the “Three Protectors of Tibet”: Chokpori, just to the south of the Potala, is the soul-mountain of Vajrapani; Pongwari that of Manjusri; and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Avalokiteśvara.
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