The Potala Palace in Lhasa was the primary residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala amid riots against the Chinese military occupation of Tibet. He remains in exile today. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-77), the remaining monks were expelled and the abandoned palace was looted and damaged by Chinese soldiers.
Only a few monks are allowed to occupy the Potala Palace under strict supervision and Tibetan pilgrims are not generally admitted to the shrines. The Chinese government operates the palace as a state museum and has recently renovated the building to attract foreign tourists.
Built on a rocky hill overlooking the city of Lhasa, the Potala Palace has a sturdy fortress-like appearance. It contains more than a thousand rooms spreading over an area of 1.300 feet by 1.000 feet. The stone walls are 16 feet thick at the base, but more finely constructed (without the use of nails) in the upper stories.
The Palace is made of two main parts, easily distinguished by their color: the Red Palace and White Palace. The two are joined by a smaller, yellow-painted structure that houses the sacred banners hung on the exterior for the New Year festivals. The rooms inside the palace are identified by numbers as well as names. The palace is fronted by a great plaza at the south base of the rock, enclosed by walls and gates. A series of fairly easy staircases, broken by intervals of gentle ascent, leads to the summit of the rock.