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History of Lhasa

Clockwise from top: Potala Palace, Lhasa city view, Jokhang Square and Barkhor StreetLhasa became the religious and political centre of Tibet by the middle of the 7th century. It rose to prominence when Songtsän Gampo became the leader of the Tibetan Empire. After conquering the kingdom of Zhangzhung in the west, he moved the capital from the Chingwa Taktse castle in Chongye county, southwest of Yarlung, to Rasa (modern Lhasa).

In 641 AD, Songtsän Gampo, who by this time had established a vast Tibetan empire, wedded Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal and Princess Wen Cheng of the Imperial Tang court. Through these marriages, he converted to Buddhism and proceeded to build the Jokhang Ramoche Temple in Lhasa in order to house the Buddha statues brought to his court by the princesses.

Lhasa remained the capital throughout the development of the Tibetan Empire until the reign of the anti-buddhist king Langdarma in the 9th century, when many sacred sites were destroyed and desecrated and the empire fragmented.

From the fall of the monarchy in the 9th century to the accession of the 5th Dalai Lama, the centre of political power in the Tibetan region was not situated in Lhasa. By the 15th century, the city of Lhasa had risen to prominence again, following the founding of three large Gelugpa monasteries by Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples. The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682), conquered Tibet and, in 1642, moved the centre of his administration to Lhasa, which again became both the religious and political capital.

In 1648, the Potrang Karpo (White Palace) of the Potala was completed, and the Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time onwards. The Jokhang Temple was also greatly expanded around this time. Although some wooden carvings and lintels of the Jokhang Temple date to the 7th century, the oldest of Lhasa's extant buildings, such as within the Potala Palace, the Jokhang and some of the monasteries and properties in the Old Quarter date to this second flowering in Lhasa's history.

The Norbulingka summer palace and gardens to the southwest of the city were constructed in the 18th century under the 7th Dalai Lama.

There were about a total of 1,500 resident Tibetan laymen and about 5,500 Tibetan women. As Lhasa was the centre of Tibetan Buddhism, nearly half of its population were monks. The permanent population also included Chinese families (about 2,000). The city's residents included people from Nepal and Ladak (about 800), and a few from Bhutan, Mongolia and other places.

Today, Lhasa is modern and bustling with locals and tourists from all over the world. But the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Square are still at the beating heart of this ancient city.

Source: This synopsis of the history of Lhasa, and the photos of Lhasa, were sourced from Wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Read a more detailed history of Lhasa at Wikipedia.org.


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