Tibetan Buddhist architecture

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The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet Potala - panoramio - Matthew Summerton cropped.jpg
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

Tibetan Buddhist architecture, in the cultural regions of the Tibetan people, has been highly influenced by Nepal, China and India. For example, the Buddhist prayer wheel, along with two dragons, can be seen on nearly every temple in Tibet. Many of the houses and monasteries are typically built on elevated, sunny sites facing the south. Rocks, wood, cement and earth are the primary building materials. Flat roofs are built to conserve heat and multiple windows are constructed to let in the sunlight. Due to frequent earthquakes, walls are usually sloped inward at 10 degrees.


The Potala Palace is considered the most important example of Tibetan architecture. Formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, it contains over a thousand rooms within thirteen stories. Portraits of the past Dalai Lamas and statues of the Buddha are on display. The palace is divided between the outer White Palace (which serves as the administrative quarters), and the inner Red Quarters (which houses the assembly hall of the Lamas, chapels, 10,000 shrines, and a vast library of Buddhist scriptures). [1]

Temples and monasteries were all built by Tibetan Buddhist followers. All decorations—plated statues, elaborate frescoes, and expensive silk hangings—were all bought and paid for by donations. The following list contains only a portion of all Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, as many of the Monasteries were destroyed when Tibet was annexed by China.

Songtsän Gampo

Songtsän Gampo founded the first two Tibetan Buddhist temples in Lhasa. He married two Buddhist brides: a Nepalese princess and a Chinese princess. He built each wife a temple to hold each of their Buddha statues (later, the statues switched temples). Gampo changed Rasa ("land of the goat"), the name of the region, to Lhasa ("land of the god").


Small temples called chorten are found everywhere in Tibet. The design can vary, from roundish walls to squarish, four-sided walls. Some of these temples have relics of monks or other precious items. They are decorated with different depictions of the elements and nirvana symbolizing when the Buddha reached enlightenment. There are eight types of chorten, but only two-three are common in Tibet. It is considered a good deed of merit to either restore the temple or to walk around the temple in a clockwise direction.

Tibetan monasteries


There are dozens of cave cities (hollowed out of sandy cliffs) in the Mustang Kingdom. Caves were used prior to wood constructed monasteries because monks were similar to hermits and would like to be isolated. These caves were constructed by sculptors and engineers, rather than architects because clay and rock were used rather than wood. In the caves, there would be columns constructed out of these materials (and they appeared to be as solid and smooth as wood). In deep caves, like in the isolated valleys of Zanskar, the assembly halls are deep in the cavern and the monk's cells come out in a waterfall formation. This building technique took the abruptly ending plateau rise of mountains and dug into the steep walls to create caves. These cave dwellings were close to trade routes were monks could get donations while practicing a semi-monastic life.

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Lhasa District in Tibet, Peoples Republic of China

Lhasa or Chengguan is a district and administrative capital of Lhasa City in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. The inner urban area of Lhasa City is equivalent to the administrative borders of Chengguan District, which is part of the wider prefectural Lhasa City.

Jokhang temple

The Jokhang, also known as the Qoikang Monastery, Jokang, Jokhang Temple, Jokhang Monastery and Zuglagkang, is a Buddhist temple in Barkhor Square in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Tibetans, in general, consider this temple as the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. The temple is currently maintained by the Gelug school, but they accept worshipers from all sects of Buddhism. The temple's architectural style is a mixture of Indian vihara design, Tibetan and Nepalese design.

Tibetan culture Asian culture

Tibet developed a distinct culture due to its geographic and climatic conditions. While influenced by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences, and stimulated the development of its distinct culture.

Sera Monastery Buddhist monastery in Tibet

Sera Monastery is one of the "great three" Gelug university monasteries of Tibet, located 1.25 miles (2.01 km) north of Lhasa and about 5 km (3.1 mi) north of the Jokhang. The other two are Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. The origin of its name is attributed to a fact that during construction, the hill behind the monastery was covered with blooming wild roses.

Palcho Monastery China, Gyantsé monastery

The Palcho Monastery or Pelkor Chode Monastery or Shekar Gyantse is the main monastery in the Nyangchu river valley in Gyantse, Gyantse County, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. The monastery precinct is a complex of structures which, apart from the Tsuklakhang Monastery, also includes its Kumbum, believed to be the largest such structure in Tibet, that is most notable for its 108 chapels in its several floors and the old Dzong or fort.

Drigung Monastery monastery in Lhasa, Tibet

Drigung Thil Monastery is a monastery in Maizhokunggar County, Lhasa, Tibet founded in 1179. Traditionally it has been the main seat of the Drikung Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In its early years the monastery played an important role in both religion and politics, but it was destroyed in 1290 by Mongol troops under the direction of a rival sect. The monastery was rebuilt and regained some of its former strength, but was primarily a center of meditative studies. The monastery was destroyed after 1959, but has since been partly rebuilt. As of 2015 there were about 250 resident monks.

Muru Nyingba Monastery building in Muru Nyingba Monastery, China

Muru Ningba or Meru Nyingba is a small Buddhist monastery located between the larger monasteries of Jokhang and Barkhor in the city of Lhasa, Tibet, China. It was the Lhasa seat of the former State Oracle who had his main residence at Nechung Monastery.

Sakya Monastery building in Peoples Republic of China

Sakya Monastery, also known as Pel Sakya is a Buddhist monastery situated 25 km southeast of a bridge which is about 127 km west of Shigatse on the road to Tingri in Tibet Autonomous Region.

Yerpa monastery

Yerpa is only a short drive to the east of Lhasa, Tibet, and consists of a monastery and a number of ancient meditation caves that used to house about 300 monks.

This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

Architecture of Tibet

Architecture of Tibet contains Chinese and Indian influences but has many unique features brought about by its adaptation to the cold, generally arid, high-altitude climate of the Tibetan plateau. Buildings are generally made from locally available construction materials, and are often embellished with symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. For example, private homes often have Buddhist prayer flags flying from the rooftop.

Nyethang Drolma Temple building in Qüxü County, China

The Nyethang Drolma Temple is a temple in Nyêtang in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China dedicated to Tara. It is associated with Atiśa (980–1054), who founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery survived the Cultural Revolution relatively undamaged. It is dedicated to Tara, a female bodhisattva, and contains many statues and paintings of Tara.

Tabo Monastery building in India

Tabo Monastery is located in the Tabo village of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, northern India. It was founded in 996 CE in the Tibetan year of the Fire Ape by the Tibetan Buddhist lotsawa (translator) Rinchen Zangpo, on behalf of the king of western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge, Yeshe-Ö. Tabo is noted for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist enclave in both India and the Himalayas. A large number of frescoes displayed on its walls depict tales from the Buddhist pantheon. There are many priceless collections of thankas, manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall. The monastery is in need of refurbishing as the wooden structures are aging and the thanka scroll paintings are fading. After the earthquake of 1975, the monastery was rebuilt, and in 1983 a new Du-kang or Assembly Hall was constructed. It is here that the 14th Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra ceremonies in 1983 and 1996. The monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India.

Pabonka Hermitage building in Pabonka Hermitage, China

Pabonka Hermitage, also written Pawangka, is a historical hermitage, today belonging to Sera Monastery, about 8 kilometres northwest of Lhasa in the Nyang bran Valley on the slopes of Mount Parasol in Tibet.

Tholing Monastery building in Zanda County, China

Tholing Monastery is the oldest monastery in the Ngari Prefecture of western Tibet. It is situated in Tholing (Zanda), Zanda County, near the Indian border of Ladakh. It was built in 997 AD by Yeshe-Ö, the second King of the Guge Kingdom. In Tibetan language 'Tholing' means "hovering in the sky forever" and is reflected by the location of the monastery at an elevation of 12,400 feet (3,800 m). The complex includes three temples, the Yeshe-O Temple, the Lhakhang Karpo and the Dukhang. There are many ancient, precious, and well-preserved frescoes.

Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh

Buddhism in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has been a long recorded practice. The spread of Buddhism in the region has occurred intermediately throughout its history. Starting in the 3rd century BCE, Buddhism was propagated by the Maurya Empire under the reign of Ashoka. The region would remain an important center for Buddhism under the Kushan Empire and its vassals. Over the centuries the following of Buddhism has greatly fluctuated. Yet by experiencing revivals and migrations, Buddhism continued to be rooted in the region, particularly in the Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur valleys.

Jowo (statue)

Jowo Shakyamuni or Jowo Rinpoche is, with Jowo Mikyö Dorje, the most sacred statue in Tibet. Jowo Rinpoche is housed in the Jokhang temple and Jowo Mikyö Dorje in the Ramoche temple in Lhasa.

Gongkar Chö Monastery building in Gonggar County, China

The Gongkar Chö Monastery or Gongkar Dorjé Monastery is located in Gonggar County, Lhoka Province, Tibet Autonomous Region near Gonggar Dzong and Lhasa Gonggar Airport.

Architecture of Lhasa

Lhasa is noted for its traditional buildings and structures related to Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan monasticism

Although there were many householder-yogis in Tibet, monasticism was the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet. However, nearly all of these were ransacked and destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Most of the major monasteries have been at least partially re-established, while many others remain in ruins.


  1. Tibetan Architecture by Ottawa Friends of Tibet