Buddhas of Bamyan -Afghanistan

Buddhas of Bamyan


Coordinates: 34°49′55.35″N 67°49′36.49″E / 34.8320417°N 67.8268028°E / 34.8320417; 67.8268028

Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamyan Valley*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

One of the two buddhas of Bamyan in 1976 

State Party Afghanistan
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi.
Reference 208
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2003  (Twenty seventh Session)
Endangered 2003-
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
History of Afghanistan
See also
Ariana · Khorasan
Pre-Islamic period [show] 

Bactria-Margiana (2200–1700 BC)
Kambojas (?-550 BC)
Median Empire (728–550 BC)
Achaemenids (550–330 BC)
Seleucids (330–150 BC)
Mauryans (305–180 BC)
Greco-Bactrians (256–125 BC)
Indo-Greeks (180–130 BC)
Indo-Scythians (Sakas) (155–80? BC)
Indo-Parthians (20 BC-50? AD)
Kushans (135 BC-248 AD)
Sassanids (230–565)
Indo-Sassanids (248–410)
Kidarites (320–465)
Hephthalites (410–557)
Kabul Shahi (565–879)
Islamic conquest [show] 

Rashidun Caliphate (642–641)
Umayyads (661–750)
Abbasids (750–821)
Tahirids (821–873)
Saffarids (863–900))
Samanids (875–999)
Ghaznavids (963–1187)
Seljukids (1037–1194)
Khwarezmids (1077–1231)
Ghorids (1149–1212)
Ilkhanate (1258–1353)
Kartids (1245–1381)
Timurids (1370–1506)
Mughals (1501–1738)
Safavids (1510–1709)
Hotaki dynasty (1709–1738)
Afsharids (1738–1747)
Modern history [show] 

Durrani Empire (1747–1826)
Barakzai dynasty (1826–1973)
Republic of Afghanistan (1973–1978)
Democratic Republic (1978–1992)
Islamic State (1992–1996)
Islamic Emirate (1996–2001)
Islamic Republic (2001–)
Afghan Civil War

The Buddhas of Bamyan (Persian: بت های باميان – but hay-e bamiyaan) were two 6th century[1] monumental statues of standing buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, situated 230 km (143 miles) northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2500 meters (8,202 ft). Built in 507, the larger in 554[1], the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.[2]

The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors.[3]

The lower parts of the statues’ arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco.

They were intentionally dynamited and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were “idols” (which are forbidden under Sharia law). International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues.[4]


Bamyan lies on the Silk Road which lies in the Hindu Kush mountain region, in the Bamiyan Valley. The Silk Road is a caravan route linking the markets of China with those of Western Asia. Until the 11th century, Bamyan was part of the kingdom of Gandhara. It was the site of several Buddhist monasteries, and a thriving center for religion, philosophy, and Indian art. It was a Buddhist religious site from the 2nd century up to the time of the Islamic invasion in the 9th century. Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamyan cliffs. Many of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly colored frescoes.

The two most prominent statues were the giant standing Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni, identified by the different mudras performed, measuring 55 and 37 metres (180 and 121 feet) high respectively, the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world. The larger figure was also said to portray Dīpankara Buddha. They were perhaps the most famous cultural landmarks of the region, and the site was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the surrounding cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamyan Valley.

The smaller of the statues was built in 507, the larger in 554.[1] They are believed to have been built by the Kushans, with the guidance of local Buddhist monks, at the heyday of their empire.

The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang passed through the area around 630 and described Bamyan as a flourishing Buddhist center “with more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks”. He also noted that both Buddha figures were “decorated with gold and fine jewels” (Wriggins, 1995). Intriguingly, Xuanzang mentions a third, even larger, reclining statue of the Buddha.[3] A monumental seated Buddha, similar in style to those at Bamyan, still exists in the Bingling Temple caves in China’s Gansu province.

The destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas became a symbol of oppression and a rallying point for the freedom of religious expression. Despite the fact that most Afghans are now Muslim, they too had embraced their past and many were appalled by the destruction.[5][6][7]

11th to the 20th century

The enormous Buddhas, the male Salsal (“light shines through the universe”) and the (smaller) female Shamama (“Queen Mother”),[8] as they were called by the locals, did not fail to fire the imagination of Islamic writers in centuries past. The smaller Buddha was once known as a statue of Sakyamuni in Xuanzang’s Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, and physical characteristics of the Buddha has to be male. The larger statue reappears as the malevolent giant Salsal in medieval Turkish tales.[9]

Preface to 2001, under the Taliban

In July 1999, Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a decree in favor of the preservation of the Bamyan Buddha’s statue. Because Afghanistan’s Buddhist population no longer exists, which removed the possibility of the statues being worshiped, he added: “The government considers the Bamyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors. The Taliban states that Bamyan shall not be destroyed but protected.”[10]

However, Afghanistan’s radical clerics began a campaign to crack down on “un-Islamic” segments of Afghan society. The Taliban soon banned all forms of imagery, music and sports, including television, in accordance with what they considered a strict interpretation of Sharia.[11]

Information and Culture Minister Qadratullah Jamal told Associated Press of a decision by 400 religious clerics from across Afghanistan declaring the Buddhist statues against the tenets of Islam. “They came out with a consensus that the statues were against Islam,” said Jamal.

According to UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, a meeting of ambassadors from the 54 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was conducted. All OIC states – including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three countries that officially recognised the Taliban government – joined the protest to spare the monuments.[12] A statement issued by the ministry of religious affairs of Taliban regime justified the destruction as being in accordance with Islamic law.[13] Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later condemned the destruction as “savage”.[14] Although India never recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, New Delhi offered to arrange for the transfer of all the artifacts in question to India, “where they would be kept safely and preserved for all mankind.”, but these overtures were rejected by the Taliban.

Dynamiting and destruction, March 2001

Destruction of the site by Taliban

Site of a statue after it was destroyed

The statues were destroyed by dynamite over several weeks, starting on March 2 [15], carried out in different stages. Initially, the statues were fired at for several days using anti-aircraft guns and artillery. This caused severe damage, but did not obliterate them. Later, the Taliban placed anti-tank mines at the bottom of the niches, so that when fragments of rock broke off from artillery fire, the statues would receive additional destruction from particles that set off the mines. In the end, the Taliban lowered men down the cliff face and placed explosives into holes in the Buddhas.[16]

On 6 March 2001 The Times quoted Mullah Mohammed Omar as stating, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.” During a 13 March interview for Japan‘s Mainichi Shimbun, Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel stated that the destruction was anything but a retaliation against the international community for economic sanctions: “We are destroying the statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue”.

On 18 March, The New York Times reported that a Taliban envoy said the Islamic government made its decision in a rage after a foreign delegation offered money to preserve the ancient works. The report also added, however, that other reports “have said the religious leaders were debating the move for months, and ultimately decided that the statues were idolatrous and should be obliterated.”[17]

Then Taliban ambassador-at-large, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, said that the destruction of the statues was carried out by the Head Council of Scholars after a single Swedish monuments expert proposed to restore the statues’ heads. Hashimi is reported as saying: “When the Afghani head council asked them to provide the money to feed the children instead of fixing the statues, they refused and said, ‘No, the money is just for the statues, not for the children’. Herein, they made the decision to destroy the statues”. However, he did not comment on the claim that a foreign museum offered to “buy the Buddhist statues, the money from which could have been used to feed children.”[18]

Aftermath of the destruction

The Taliban government decreed that the statues, which had survived for over 1,500 years, were idolatrous and un-Islamic. During the destruction, Taliban Information Minister Qudratullah Jamal lamented that, “this work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can’t knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain.”[19]

After one of the explosions failed to completely obliterate the face of one of the Buddhas, a rocket was launched which left a hole in the remains of the stone head.[20]

Commitment to rebuild

Though the figures of the two large Buddhas are almost completely destroyed, their outlines and some features are still recognizable within the recesses. It is also still possible for visitors to explore the monks’ caves and the passages which connect them. As part of the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the Taliban war, the Government of Japan and several other organizations, among them the Afghanistan Institute in Bubendorf, Switzerland, along with the ETH in Zurich, have committed to rebuilding, perhaps by anastylosis, the two largest Buddhas.

Developments since 2002

The site of the Buddhas in August 2005.

In May 2002, a mountainside sculpture of the Buddha was carved out of a mountain in Sri Lanka. It was designed to closely resemble one of the Buddhas of Bamyan.

The Afghan government has commissioned Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata to recreate the Bamyan Buddhas using fourteen laser systems to project the images of the Buddhas onto the cliff where they once stood. The laser systems will be solar and wind-powered. The project, which will cost an estimated $9 million, is currently pending UNESCO approval. If approved, the project is estimated to be completed by June 2012.

In September 2005, Mawlawi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, Taliban governor of Bamyan province at the time of the destruction and widely seen as responsible for its occurrence, was elected to the Afghan Parliament. On 26 January 2007, he was assassinated in Kabul.

Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei made a 95-minute documentary titled The Giant Buddhas (released in March 2006) on the statues, the international reactions to their destruction, and an overview of the controversy. The movie makes the controversial claim (quoting a local Afghan) that the destruction was ordered by Osama Bin Laden and that initially, Mullah Omar and the Afghans in Bamyan had opposed the destruction.[21]

In the summer of 2006, Afghan officials were deciding on the timetable for the re-construction of the statues. As they wait for the Afghan government and international community to decide when to rebuild them, a $1.3 million UNESCO-funded project is sorting out the chunks of clay and plaster — ranging from boulders weighing several tons to fragments the size of tennis balls — and sheltering them from the elements.

The Buddhist remnants at Bamyan were included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund.

Another giant statue unearthed

On 8 September 2008 archeologists searching for a legendary 300-meter statue at the site of the already dynamited Buddhas announced the discovery of an unknown 19-meter (62-foot) reclining Buddha, a pose representing Buddha’s passage into nirvana

Statue from a Buddhist monastery, 700 AD, Afghanistan

Buddhist art in Afghanistan (old Bactria) persisted for several centuries until the spread of Islam in the 7th century. It is exemplified by the Buddhas of Bamyan. Other sculptures, in stucco, schist or clay, display very strong blending of Indian post-Gupta mannerism and Classical influence, Hellenistic or possibly even Greco-Roman.

Although Islamic rule was somewhat tolerant of other religions “of the Book“, it showed little tolerance for Buddhism, which was perceived as a religion depending on “idolatry“. Human figurative art forms also being prohibited under Islam, Buddhist art suffered numerous attacks, which culminated with the systematic destructions by the Taliban regime. The Buddhas of Bamyan, the sculptures of Hadda, and many of the remaining artifacts at the Afghanistan museum have been destroyed.

The multiple conflicts since the 1980s also have led to a systematic pillage of archaeological sites apparently in the hope of reselling in the international market what artifacts could be found.

Central Asia

Central Asia long played the role of a meeting place between China, India and Persia. During the 2nd century BCE, the expansion of the Former Han to the West led to increased contact with the Hellenistic civilizations of Asia, especially the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom.

Serindian art, 6th-7th century terracotta, Tumshuq (Xinjiang).

Thereafter, the expansion of Buddhism to the North led to the formation of Buddhist communities and even Buddhist kingdoms in the oasis of Central Asia. Some Silk Road cities consisted almost entirely of Buddhist stupas and monasteries, and it seems that one of their main objectives was to welcome and service travelers between East and West.

The eastern part of Central Asia (Chinese Turkestan (Tarim Basin, Xinjiang) in particular has revealed an extremely rich Serindian art (wall paintings and reliefs in numerous caves, portable paintings on canvas, sculpture, ritual objects), displaying multiple influences from Indian and Hellenistic cultures. Works of art reminiscent of the Gandharan style, as well as scriptures in the Gandhari script Kharoshti have been found. These influences were rapidly absorbed however by the vigorous Chinese culture, and a strongly Chinese particularism develops from that point.

See also: Dunhuang, Mogao Caves, Kingdom of Khotan, Silk Road, Silk Road transmission

See also



  1. ^ a b c Gall, Carlotta (2006-12-05). “Afghans consider rebuilding Bamyan Buddhas”. International Herald Tribune. http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/12/05/news/buddhas.php?page=1. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  2. ^ Morgan, Kenneth W. The Path of the Buddha. Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=g6OHBCgmmGAC&pg=PA43&dq=Bamiyan+Buddha,+Gandhara+art&ei=PswlSqDBOILszATz2KH1Bg. Retrieved 02-06-2009.
  3. ^ a b Gall, Carlotta (2006-12-06). “From Ruins of Afghan Buddhas, a History Grows”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/06/world/asia/06budd.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&th&emc=th. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  4. ^ Waduge, Shenali (2008-03-14). “Afghans destroy Buddhas, but cry foul over cartoons”. The Nation. http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2008/03/14/opinion/opinion_30068112.php. Retrieved 2008-04-29.
  5. ^ “afghan_reaction.htm”. Institute-for-afghan-studies.org. http://www.institute-for-afghan-studies.org/History/NATIONAL%20TREASURES/statues_destroyed/afghan_reaction.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-06.
  6. ^ Buddhas of Bamyan
  7. ^ What Lies Beneath
  8. ^ booklet web E.indd
  9. ^ Laban Kaptein, Eindtijd en Antichrist, p. 127. Leiden 1997. ISBN 9073782899
  10. ^ Harding, Luke (2001-03-03). “How the Buddha got his wounds”. London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2006-02-28. http://web.archive.org/web/20060228113747/http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4145138,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  11. ^ Vawda, Moulana Imraan. “The Destruction of Statues Displayed in an Islamic State”. Ask-Imam.com. http://www.islam.tc/ask-imam/view.php?q=3436. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  12. ^ “World appeals to Taliban to stop destroying statues”. CNN. 2001-03-03. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/central/03/03/afghan.buddhas.03/index.html. Retrieved 2008-01-06. [dead link]
  13. ^ “Destruction of Giant Buddhas Confirmed”. AFP. 2001-03-12. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/70/story_7096_1.html. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  14. ^ Bearak, Barry (2001-03-04). “Over World Protests, Taliban Are Destroying Ancient Buddhas”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/04/world/04AFGH.html?ex=1218686400&en=f513bb4edae409e0&ei=5070. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  15. ^ “Taliban destroy ancient Buddhist relics – International pleas ignored by Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalist leaders”
  16. ^ “”Destruction and Rebuilding of the Bamyan Buddhas” by Slate Magazine”. http://www.slate.com/id/2104119/entry/2104187.
  17. ^ Crossette, Barbara (2001-03-19). “Taliban Explains Buddha Demolition”. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/19/world/19TALI.html?ex=1142571600&en=e5ba6c267eada53a&ei=5070. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  18. ^ Kassaimah, Sahar (2001-01-12). “Afghani Ambassador Speaks At USC”. IslamOnline. http://www.islamonline.net/english/news/2001-03/13/article12.shtml. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ Bergen, Peter. “The Osama bin Laden I Know”, 2006. p. 271
  21. ^ “Laden ordered Bamyan Buddha destruction”. The Times of India. 2006-03-28. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1466974.cms. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
  22. ^ a b “Scientitsts discover first-ever oil paintings in Afghanistan”. Earthtimes.org. http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/200569,scientists-discover-first-ever-oil-paintings-in-afghanistan.html. Retrieved 24 April 2008.
  23. ^ a b c d Highfield, Roger (2008-04-22). “Oil painting ‘invented in Asia, not Europe'”. London: Telegraph.co.uk. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/04/22/sciart122.xml. Retrieved 24 April 2008.  However, the press release picked up by media, clearly misdates the earliest uses of oil paint in Europe, which is well known to be fully described in a treatise by Theophilus Presbyter of 1100-1120, and may date back to the Ancient Romans. See: Rutherford John Gettens, George Leslie Stout, 1966, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0486215970 Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia (online text), p.42[2]
  24. ^ “Ancient Buddhist Paintings From Bamyan Were Made Of Oil, Hundreds Of Years Before Technique Was ‘Invented’ In Europe”. Sciencedaily.com. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080422083309.htm. Retrieved 24 April 2008.
  25. ^ a b c d e “Ancient Buddhas painted in oils”. nature.com. http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080422/full/news.2008.770.html. Retrieved 24 April 2008.

Further reading


Potala Palace – Tibet

Potala Palace


Potala Palace

The Potala Palace from the south-east
Tibetan name
Tibetan པོ་ཏ་ལ
Wylie transliteration Po ta la
Chinese name
traditional 布達拉宮
simplified 布达拉宫

Potala Palace

Location within Tibet

Coordinates: 29°39′28″N 91°07′01″E / 29.65778°N 91.11694°E / 29.65778; 91.11694
Monastery information
Location Lhasa, Tibet, China
Founded by Songtsen Gampo
Founded 637
Date renovated Modern palace constructed by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1645
Renovated:1989 to 1994, 2002
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Lineage Dalai Lama
Head Lama 14th Dalai Lama

Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

State Party China
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv, vi
Reference 707
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1994  (18th Session)
Extensions 2000; 2001
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Potala Palace (Tibetan: པོ་ཏ་ལ; Wylie: Po ta la; simplified Chinese: 布达拉宫; traditional Chinese: 布達拉宮) is located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It was named after Mount Potala, the abode of Chenresig or Avalokitesvara.[1] The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, after an invasion and failed uprising in 1959. Today the Potala Palace has been converted into a museum by the Chinese government.

The building measures 400 metres east-west and 350 metres north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 m. thick, and 5 m. (more than 16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes.[2] Thirteen stories of buildings – containing over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues – soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 m (about 1,000 ft) in total above the valley floor.[3]

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 (bla-ri) of Vajrapani, Pongwari that of Manjushri, and Marpori, the hill on which the Potala stands, represents Chenresig or Avalokiteshvara.[4]


The former quarters of the Dalai Lama. The figure in the throne represents Tenzin Gyatso, the incumbent Dalai Lama

The site was used as a meditation retreat by King Songtsen Gampo, who in 637 built the first palace there in order to greet his bride Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang Dynasty of China.

Lozang Gyatso, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, started the construction of the Potala Palace in 1645[5] after one of his spiritual advisers, Konchog Chophel (d. 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.[6] The Dalai Lama and his government moved into the Potrang Karpo (‘White Palace’) in 1649.[6] Construction lasted until 1694,[7] some twelve years after his death. The Potala was used as a winter palace by the Dalai Lama from that time. The Potrang Marpo (‘Red Palace’) was added between 1690 and 1694.[7]

The new palace got its name from a hill on Cape Comorin at the southern tip of India—a rocky point sacred to the bodhisattva of compassion, whom is known as Avalokitesvara, or Chenrezi. The Tibetans themselves rarely speak of the sacred place as the “Potala,” but rather as “Peak Potala” (Tse Potala), or usually as “the Peak.[8]

The palace was slightly damaged during the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959, when Chinese shells were launched into the palace’s windows. It also escaped damage during the Cultural Revolution in 1966 through the personal intervention of Zhou Enlai,[9] who was then the Premier of the People’s Republic of China. Still, almost all of the over 100,000 volumes of scriptures, historical documents and other works of art were either removed, damaged or destroyed.[10]

The Potala Palace was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. In 2000 and 2001, Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka were added to the list as extensions to the sites. Rapid modernisation has been a concern for UNESCO, however, which expressed concern over the building of modern structures immediately around the palace which threaten the palace’s unique atmosphere[11]. The Chinese government responded by enacting a rule barring the building of any structure taller than 21 metres in the area. UNESCO was also concerned over the materials used during the restoration of the palace, which commenced in 2002 at a cost of RMB180 million (US$22.5 million), although the palace’s director, Qiangba Gesang, has clarified that only traditional materials and craftsmanship were used. The palace has also received restoration works between 1989 to 1994, costing RMB55 million (US$6.875 million).

The number of visitors to the palace was restricted to 1,600 a day, with opening hours reduced to six hours daily to avoid over-crowding from 1 May 2003. The palace was receiving an average of 1,500 a day prior to the introduction of the quota, sometimes peaking to over 5,000 in one day[12]. Visits to the structure’s roof was banned after restoration works were completed in 2006 to avoid further structural damage[13]. Visitorship quotas were raised to 2,300 daily to accommodate a 30% increase in visitorship since the opening of the Qingzang railway into Lhasa on 1 July 2006, but the quota is often reached by mid-morning[14]. Opening hours were extended during the peak period in the months of July to September, where over 6,000 visitors would descend on the site[15].


Built at an altitude of 3,700 m (12,100 ft), on the side of Marpo Ri (‘Red Mountain’) in the center of Lhasa Valley,[16] the Potala Palace, with its vast inward-sloping walls broken only in the upper parts by straight rows of many windows, and its flat roofs at various levels, is not unlike a fortress in appearance. At the south base of the rock is a large space enclosed by walls and gates, with great porticos on the inner side. A series of tolerably easy staircases, broken by intervals of gentle ascent, leads to the summit of the rock. The whole width of this is occupied by the palace.

The central part of this group of buildings rises in a vast quadrangular mass above its satellites to a great height, terminating in gilt canopies similar to those on the Jokhang. This central member of Potala is called the “red palace” from its crimson colour, which distinguishes it from the rest. It contains the principal halls and chapels and shrines of past Dalai Lamas. There is in these much rich decorative painting, with jewelled work, carving and other ornament.

The Chinese Putuo Zongcheng Temple, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built between 1767 and 1771, was in part modeled after the Potala Palace. The palace was named by the American television show Good Morning America and newspaper USA Today as one of the “New Seven Wonders“.[17]

White Palace

The White Palace or Potrang Karpo is the part of the Potala Palace that makes up the living quarters of the Dalai Lama. The first White Palace was built during the lifetime of the Fifth Dalai Lama and he and his government moved into it in 1649.[6] It then was extended to its size today by the thirteenth Dalai Lama in the early twentieth century. The palace was for secular uses and contained the living quarters, offices, the seminary and the printing house. A central, yellow-painted courtyard known as a Deyangshar separates the living quarters of the Lama and his monks with the Red Palace, the other side of the sacred Potala, which is completely devoted to religious study and prayer. It contains the sacred gold stupas—the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas—the monks’ assembly hall, numerous chapels and shrines, and libraries for the important Buddhist scriptures, the Kangyur in 108 volumes and the Tengyur with 225. The yellow building at the side of the White Palace in the courtyard between the main palaces houses giant banners embroidered with holy symbols which hung across the south face of the Potala during New Year festivals.

Red Palace

Looking up at the Potala. 1993.

The Red Palace or Potrang Marpo is part of the Potala palace that is completely devoted to religious study and Buddhist prayer. It consists of a complicated layout of many different halls, chapels and libraries on many different levels with a complex array of smaller galleries and winding passages:

Great West Hall

A Dhvaja on the roof

The main central hall of the Red Palace is the Great West Hall which consists of four great chapels that proclaim the glory and power of the builder of the Potala, the Fifth Dalai Lama. The hall is noted for its fine murals reminiscent of Persian miniatures, depicting events in the fifth Dalai Lama’s life. The famous scene of his visit to Emperor Shun Zhi in Beijing is located on the east wall outside the entrance. Special cloth from Bhutan wraps the Hall’s numerous columns and pillars.

The Saint’s Chapel

On the north side of this hall in the Red Palace is the holiest shrine of the Potala. A large blue and gold inscription over the door was written by the 19th century Tongzhi Emperor of China. proclaiming Buddhism a Blessed Field of Wonderful Fruit. This chapel like the Dharma cave below it dates from the seventh century. It contains a small ancient jewel encrusted statue of Avalokiteshvara and two of his attendants. On the floor below, a low, dark passage leads into the Dharma Cave where Songsten Gampo is believed to have studied Buddhism. In the holy cave are images of Songsten Gampo, his wives, his chief minister and Sambhota, the scholar who developed Tibetan writing in the company of his many divinities.

North Chapel

Snow Lions protect the entrance to the Potala Palace

The North Chapel centres on a crowned Sakyamuni Buddha on the left and the Fifth Dalai Lama on the right seated on magnificent gold thrones. Their equal height and shared aura implies equal status. On the far left of the chapel is the gold stupa tomb of the Eleventh Dalai Lama who died as a child, with rows of benign Medicine Buddhas who were the heavenly healers. On the right of the chapel are Avalokiteshvara and his historical incarnations including Songsten Gampo and the first four Dalai Lamas. Scriptures covered in silk between wooden covers form a specialized library in a room branching off it.

South Chapel

The South Chapel centres on Padmasambhava, the 8th century Indian magician and saint. His consort Yeshe Tsogyal, a gift from the King is by his left knee and his other wife from his native land of Swat is by his right. On his left, eight of his holy manifestations meditate with an inturned gaze. On his right, eight wrathful manifestations wield instruments of magic powers to subdue the demons of the Bön faith.


The walls of the Red Palace.

East Chapel

The East chapel is dedicated to Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelug tradition. His central figure is surrounded by lamas from Sakya Monastery who had briefly ruled Tibet and formed their own tradition until converted by Tsong Khapa. Other statues are displayed made of various different materials and display noble expressions.

West Chapel

This is the chapel that contains the five golden stupas. The enormous central stupa, 14.85 metres (49 ft) high, contains the mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama. This stupa is built of sandalwood and is remarkably coated in 3,727 kg (8,200 lb) of solid gold and studded with 18,680 pearls and semi-precious jewels.[18] On the left is the funeral stupa for the Twelfth Dalai Lama and on the right that of the Tenth Dalai Lama. The nearby stupa for the 13th Dalai Lama is 22 metres (72 ft) high. The stupas on both ends contain important scriptures.[3]

First Gallery

The quiet and peaceful park, pond, and chapel behind the Potala

The first gallery is on the floor above the West chapel and has a number of large windows that give light and ventilation to the Great West Hall and its chapels below. Between the windows, superb murals show the Potala’s construction is fine detail.

Second Gallery

The Second Gallery gives access to the central pavilion which is used for visitors to the palace for refreshments and to buy souvenirs.

Third Gallery

The Third Gallery besides fine murals has a number of dark rooms branching off it containing enormous collections of bronze statues and miniature figures made of copper and gold worth a fortune. The chanting hall of the Seventh Dalai Lama is on the south side and on the east an entrance connects the section to the Saints chapel and the Deyangshar between the two palaces.

Tomb of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama

The tomb of the 13th Dalai Lama is located west of the Great West Hall and it can only be reached from an upper floor and with the company of a monk or a guide of the Potala. Built in 1933, the giant stupa contains priceless jewels and one ton of solid gold. It is 14 metres (46 ft) high. Devotional offerings include elephant tusks from India, porcelain lions and vases and a pagoda made from over 200,000 pearls. Elaborate murals in traditional Tibetan styles depict many events of the life of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during the early 20th century.

Lhasa Zhol Pillar in 1993

View of the Potala from the side

The rooftop of the Potala

Mendicant monk at base of Potala, 1993


The Lhasa Zhol Pillar

The graceful stone pillar, the Lhasa Zhol rdo-rings, Lhasa Zhol Pillar or Doring Chima,[19] originally stood in Zhol Village at the foot of the Potala. Today the pillar stands neglected to the side of the new park where Zhol Village used to stand, below the Potala Palace, in Lhasa, Tibet,[citation needed] dates as far back as circa 764 CE, “or only a little later,”[20] and is inscribed with what may be the oldest known example of Tibetan writing. [21]

The pillar contains dedications to a famous Tibetan general and gives an account of his services to the king including campaigns against China which culminated in the brief capture of the Chinese capital Chang’an (modern Xian) in 763 CE[22] during which the Tibetans temporarily installed as Emperor a relative of Princess Jincheng Gongzhu (Kim-sheng Kong co), the Chinese wife of Trisong Detsen‘s father, Me Agtsom.[23][24]

See also


  1. ^ Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization (1962). Translated into English with minor revisions by the author. 1st English edition by Faber & Faber, London (1972). Reprint: Stanford University Press (1972), p. 84
  2. ^ Booz, Elisabeth B. (1986). Tibet, pp. 62-63. Passport Books, Hong Kong.
  3. ^ a b Buckley, Michael and Strausss, Robert. Tibet: a travel survival kit, p. 131. Lonely Planet. South Yarra, Vic., Australia. ISBN 0-908086-88-1.
  4. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization, p. 228. Translated by J. E. Stapleton Driver. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (paper).
  5. ^ Laird, Thomas. (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, pp. 175. Grove Press, New York. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1.
  6. ^ a b c Karmay, Samten C. (2005). “The Great Fifth”, p. 1. Downloaded as a pdf file on 16 December, 2007 from: [1]
  7. ^ a b Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization (1962). Translated into English with minor revisions by the author. 1st English edition by Faber & Faber, London (1972). Reprint: Stanford University Press (1972), p. 84.
  8. ^ Lowell Thomas, Jr. (1951). Out of this World: Across the Himalayas to Tibet’. Reprint: 1952, p. 181. Macdonald & Co., London
  9. ^ http://www.potalarestaurante.com/potala.php
  10. ^ Decline of Potala par Oser
  11. ^ “Development ‘not ruining’ Potala”. BBC News. 28 July 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6920782.stm. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. ^ Tourist entry restriction protects Potala Palace
  13. ^ Potala Palace bans roof tour
  14. ^ Tibet’s Potala Palace to restrict visitors to 2,300 a day
  15. ^ Tibet bans price rises at all tourist sites(05/04/07)
  16. ^ Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization (1962). Translated into English with minor revisions by the author. 1st English edition by Faber & Faber, London (1972). Reprint: Stanford University Press (1972), p. 206
  17. ^ ABC Good Morning America “7 New Wonders” Page
  18. ^ Chorten of the fifth Dalai Lama in the Potala Palace in Lhasa of Tibet Autonomous Region
  19. ^ Larsen and Sinding-Larsen (2001), p. 78.
  20. ^ Richardson (1985), p. 2.
  21. ^ Coulmas, Florian (1999). “Tibetan writing”. Blackwell Reference Online. http://www.blackwellreference.com/public/tocnode?id=g9780631214816_chunk_g978063121481622_ss1-17. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  22. ^ Snellgrove and Richardson (1995), p. 91.
  23. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 30.
  24. ^ Beckwith (1987), p. 148.


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (1987). The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.
  • “Reading the Potala.” Peter Bishop. In: Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places In Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays. (1999) Edited by Toni Huber, pp. 367–388. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.
  • Das, Sarat Chandra. Lhasa and Central Tibet. (1902). Edited by W. W. Rockhill. Reprint: Mehra Offset Press, Delhi (1988), pp. 145–146; 166-169; 262-263 and illustration opposite p. 154.
  • Larsen and Sinding-Larsen (2001). The Lhasa Atlas: Traditional Tibetan Architecture and Landscape, Knud Larsen and Amund Sinding-Larsen. Shambhala Books, Boston. ISBN1-57062-867-X.
  • Richardson, Hugh E. (1984) Tibet & Its History. 1st edition 1962. Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Shambhala Publications. Boston ISBN 0-87773-376-7.
  • Richardson, Hugh E. (1985). A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. Royal Asiatic Society. ISBN 0 94759300/4.
  • Snellgrove, David & Hugh Richardson. (1995). A Cultural History of Tibet. 1st edition 1968. 1995 edition with new material. Shambhala. Boston & London. ISBN 1-57062102-0.
  • von Schroeder, Ulrich. (1981). Indo-Tibetan Bronzes. (608 pages, 1244 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-01-8
  • von Schroeder, Ulrich. (2001). Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Vol. One: India & Nepal; Vol. Two: Tibet & China. (Volume One: 655 pages with 766 illustrations; Volume Two: 675 pages with 987 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd.). ISBN 962-7049-07-7
  • von Schroeder, Ulrich. 2008. 108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet. (212 p., 112 colour illustrations) (DVD with 527 digital photographs). Chicago: Serindia Publications. ISBN 962-7049-08-5

External links

Lumbini of Kapilavastu – Rupandehi – Nepal

Lumbini (Sanskrit for “the lovely”) is a Buddhist pilgrimage site located at the Nepalese town of Kapilavastu, district Rupandehi, near the Indian border.

Lumbini is one of four Buddhist pilgrimage sites based on major events in the life of Gautama Buddha. Interestingly, all of the events occurred under trees.

The other three sites are in India: Bodh Gaya (enlightenment), Sarnath (first discourse), and Kushinagar (death).


Lumbini is the traditional birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who was born in the 7th or 6th century BC.

According to Buddhist tradition, Maya Devi (or Mayadevi) gave birth to the Buddha on her way to her parent’s home in Devadaha in the month of May in the year 642 BC. Feeling the onset of labor pains, she grabbed hold of the branches of a shade tree and gave birth to Siddharta Gautama, the future Buddha. The Buddha is said to have announced, “This is my final rebirth” as he entered the world. Buddhist tradition also has it that he walked immediately after his birth and took seven steps, under each of which a lotus flower bloomed.

In 249 BC, the Buddhist convert Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and constructed four stupas and a stone pillar. Ashoka’s Pillar bears an inscription that translates as: “King Piyadasi (Ashoka), beloved of devas, in the 20 year of the coronation, himself made a royal visit, Buddha Sakyamuni having been born here, a stone railing was built and a stone pillar erected to the Bhagavan [“blessed one”] having been born here. Lumbini village was taxed reduced and entitled to the eight part (only)”.

Monasteries and temples were built at Lumbini until the 9th century, but Buddhism declined in the area after the arrival of Islam and later Hinduism. All that remained was a sculpture, revered by local women as a fertility symbol. The garden of the Buddha’s birth was lost for a thousand years.

The site was rediscovered in 1895, when a German archaeologist came upon Ashoka’s Pillar, identified by its inscription. Records made by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Xian were also used in the process of identifying this religiously acclaimed site. Lumbini was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

What to See

Lumbini lies in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. The site is a large garden with a grove of pipal trees. The area around Lumbini is entirely Hindu, but many Buddhist temples and shrines from various nations are scattered around the holy site itself.

The most important temple at Lumbini is the Maya Devi Temple, which enshrines the traditional site of the Buddha’s birth. The current temple stands on the site of earlier temples and stupas, including the stupa built by Ashoka.

The modern temple consists mainly of simple white building that protects ancient ruins, with the exact spot of the Buddha’s birth identified. The delicate sandstone sculptures discovered here are now in the National Musuem in Kathmandu.

Atop the temple is a small square tower of the type seen in Kathmandu, with Buddha eyes on each side and a golden pinnacle on top.

On the south side of the temple is a sacred pool (see top photo), where it is said Maya Devi bathed before giving birth, and where the newborn Buddha was washed by two dragons.

The Maha Devi temple is surrounded by the brick foundations of ancient temples and monasteries. All around Lumbini, long lines of colorful prayer flags are strung between trees. They carry prayers and mantras heavenward as they flap on the breeze.

The other main sight of interest at Lumbini is Ashoka’s Pillar, near the temple. It is protected by a small fence, which is decorated with prayer flags and banners from the faithful. Around the courtyard containing the pillar are bowls for incense sticks, and there is room to sit in front of the pillar for contemplation.

Getting There

Lumbini is in west-central Nepal near the Indian border. It is not terribly easy to get to, and the site does not receive a large amount of visitors. Most pilgrims to Lumbini come from Southeast Asia, Japan and Tibet, but westerners come regularly as well.

Lumbini has a small airport, which receives flights from airlines like the aptly-named Buddha Air. Consult the links below for more information.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Lumbini
Location: Nepal
Faith: Buddhism
Categories: Shrines; Buddhist Temples; World Heritage Sites
Date: Founded 249 BC; current temple built c.1900
Features: Footsteps of the Buddha
Status: active
Visitor Information
Coordinates: 27.469483° N, 83.275453° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 06/23/2009.

Location Map

Below is a location map and aerial view of Lumbini. Using the buttons on the left, zoom in for a closer look or zoom out to get your bearings. Click and drag the map to move around. For a larger view, see our Nepal Map.


Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Norbert C. Brockman, Encyclopedia of Sacred Places (Oxford University Press, 1998), 104-05.
  2. Lumbini: Birth Place of the Buddha – BuddhaNet Pilgrim’s Guide
  3. Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha – UNESCO World Heritage

More Information

Last updated on June 23, 2009

Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Big Stupa) – Thailand

Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Big Stupa) is an impressive ruined temple in the center of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.


King Saen Muang Ma (r.1385-1401) began construction on Wat Chedi Luang in 1391 to hold the ashes of his father, Ku Na. The building was expanded by later kings, reaching its final form in 1475.


It was then given the great honor of housing the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in Thailand (now kept in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok). At this time, Wat Chedi Luang rose to a height of 84m (280 ft.).

A century later, a severe earthquake (1545) toppled part of the great spire. The Emerald Buddha was kept in the chedi for another six years, then moved to Luang Prabang (in present-day Laos) by the king.Five years later, Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese. The temple was never rebuilt, but even at its post-earthquake height (60m) it remained the tallest structure in Chiang Mai until modern times.

Several viharns were added to the temple complex in subsequent years; the largest viharn was built in 1928.

What to See

The ruined brick chedi of Wat Chedi Luang now rises to about 60m in height. Its base is 44m (144 ft.) wide. It has four sides, each with a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.

Despite its ruined state, the chedi still has several Buddha shrines and remains an active place of worship frequented by saffron-robed monks.

The large viharn (assembly hall) next to the ruined chedi was built in 1928. Its impressive interior, with round columns supporting a high red ceiling, contains a standing Buddha known as the Phra Chao Attarot. Made of brass alloy and mortar, the Buddha dates from the time of the temple’s founder, King Saen Muang Ma (late 14th century).

Next to the entrance is a great Dipterocarp tree, one of three revered as protectors of the city. Legend has it that if this tree falls, a great catastrophe will follow.

Also protecting Chiang Mai is the city pillar or “Spirit of the City” (Lak Mueang), which is enshrined in a small cross-shaped building next to the tree. The pillar was moved here from its original position at Wat Sadoe Muang in 1800.

Sharing the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang is another temple, Wat Phan Tao. Its wooden viharn has beautiful carvings around the door and rooflines and contains a large reclining Buddha.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Wat Chedi Luang; Jedi Luang; Temple of the Big Stupa
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Faith: Buddhism
Denomination: Thai
Category: Buddhist Temples
Date: 1391
Size: 144 feet wide and originally 282 feet tall
Status: ruins
Visitor Information
Address: Phrapokklao Rd. between Ratchamankha and Ratchadamnoen Rds., Chiang Mai, Thailand
Coordinates: 18.787007° N, 98.986489° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Opening hours: Daily 6am-5pm
Cost: Suggested donation 20B
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 04/14/2009.

Travel Resources

  • Chiang Mai Map – our detailed interactive map of Chiang Mai, plus hand-picked links to more
  • Chiang Mai Hotels – check availability, maps, photos and reviews, and book at the guaranteed lowest price
  • Chiang Mai Guided Tours – sightseeing tours and activities in Chiang Mai

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand – Asian Historical Architecture
  2. Wat Chedi LuangFrommer’s Thailand
  3. Wat Chedi Luang ReviewFodor’s Thailand
  4. Wat Chedi Luang – Window to Chiang Mai

Last updated on April 14, 2009.


Google Links


Wat Phra Kaew – Temple Of The Emerald Buddha – Thailand

Wat Phra Kaew (“Temple of the Holy Jewel Image”), also spelled Wat Phra Kaeo and commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is located on the ground of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. It is the most revered Buddhist shrine in Thailand.

Central to the temple is the Emerald Buddha, a dark green statue standing about 2 feet tall. No one is allowed near the statue except the Thai king, who conducts rituals at the temple throughout the year.


According to popular belief, the Emerald Buddha is ancient and came from Sri Lanka. Art historians, however, generally believe that it was crafted in 14th-century Thailand.

The much-revered Buddha image has traveled extensively over the centuries. The story goes that the Emerald Buddha was once kept covered in plaster in a monument in Chiang Rai, but a damaging lightning storm in 1434 uncovered the treasure.

The king of Chiang Mai tried very hard to procure the statute, but three times the elephant transporting the statute stopped at a crossroads in Lampang. Taking it as a sign from the Buddha, the statue was placed in a specially-built monumental temple in Lampang, where it stayed for 32 years.

The next king of Chiang Mai was more determined, succeeding in bringing the Emerald Buddha to his city. It was housed in a temple there until 1552, when Laotian invaders took it. The statue stayed in Laos for 214 years, until General Chakri (later King Rama I) brought it back to the Thai capital at Thonburi after his successful campaign in Laos.

In 1784, when he moved the capital across the river to Bangkok, King Rama I installed the precious figure in its present shrine, where it has remained as a tangible symbol of the Thai nation. It is feared that removal of the image from Bangkok will signify the end of the Chakri dynasty.

What to See

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha sits within the grounds of the Bangkok Grand Palace, surrounded by walls more than a mile long. Inside, it contains some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture, architecture, painting, and decorative craft in Thailand.

The Emerald Buddha sits atop a huge gold altar in the center of the temple. It is a rather small, dark statue, just over 2 feet tall, made of green jasper or perhaps jadeite (“emerald” refers to the intense green color, not the specific stone).

Emerald Buddha statue, Bangkok
The Emerald Buddha. Public domain.

Like many other Buddha statues in Thailand, the Emerald Buddha is covered in a seasonal costume, which is changed three times a year to correspond to the summer (crown and jewelry), winter (golden shawl), and rainy months (gilt robe and headdress).

The costume change is an important ritual and is performed by the Thai king, who also sprinkles water over the monks and the faithful to bring good fortune during the upcoming season. The two sets of clothing not in use at any given time are kept on display in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Thai Coins on the grounds of the Grand Palace.

The Emerald Buddha is housed in a magnificent bot (the central shrine in a Buddhist temple), which is used by monks for important religious rituals. The interior walls are decorated with late Ayutthaya-style murals depicting the life of the Buddha, steps to enlightenment, and the Buddhist cosmology of the Worlds of Desire, Being, and Illusion.

The cycle begins with the birth of the Buddha, which can be seen in the middle of the left wall as you enter the sanctuary, and the story continues counterclockwise. Also note the exquisite inlaid mother-of-pearl work on the door panels.

The surrounding portico of the shrine is an example of masterful Thai craftsmanship. On the perimeter are 12 open pavilions, built during the reign of Rama I. The inside walls of the compound are decorated with murals depicting the entire Ramakien, the Thai national epic, painted during the reign of Rama I and last restored in 1982, in 178 scenes beginning at the north gate and continuing clockwise.

There are several other monuments on the temple grounds, among the most interesting of which are the three pagodas to the immediate north of the ubosoth (main building), representing the changing centers of Buddhist influence. Phra Si Ratana Chedi, to the west, is a 19th-century Sri Lankan-style stupa housing ashes of the Buddha.

Phra Mondop, in the middle, is a library built in Thai style by Rama I, known for its excellently crafted Ayutthaya-style mother-of-pearl doors, bookcases containing the Tripitaka (sacred Buddhist manuscripts), human- and dragon-headed nagas (snakes), and statues of Chakri kings.

The Royal Pantheon, to the east, was built in Khmer style during the 19th century. It’s open to the public for one day in October to commemorate the founding of the Chakri dynasty.

To the immediate north of the library is a model of Angkor Wat, the most sacred of all Cambodian shrines. The model was constructed by King Mongkut as a reminder that the neighboring state was under the dominion of Thailand.

To the west of the bot, near the entry gate, is a black stone statue of a hermit, considered a patron of medicine, before which relatives of the ill and infirm pay homage and make offerings of joss sticks, fruit, flowers, and candles.

Scattered around the complex are statues of elephants, which symbolize independence and power. Thai kings went to battle atop elephants, and it is customary for parents to walk their children around an elephant three times to bring them strength. You can rub the head of an elephant statue for good luck – note how smooth it is from being touched by millions.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Wat Phra Kaew; Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Faith: Buddhism
Category: Buddhist Temples
Date: 1782
Features: Holiest
Status: active
Photo gallery: Wat Phra Kaew Photo Gallery
Visitor Information
Coordinates: 13.751514° N, 100.492471° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Public transport: Chao Phraya Express Boat to Pier Tha Chang
Opening hours: Daily 8:30am-3:30pm
Cost: 250B (includes Grand Palace)
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 07/30/2010.

Travel Resources

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Wat Phra Keow – Asian Historical Architecture
  2. Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha – Thailand.com

Last updated on July 30, 2010.


Google Links


Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple) Thailand

Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple) Thailand

Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) is named for the gleaming white Carrara marble (from Italy) of which it is constructed. The most modern and one of the most beautiful of Bangkok‘s royal wats, Wat Benchamabophit is also notable for its use of European designs.


Wat Benchamabophit was built in 1899 by Prince Narai, half-brother of Rama V. Thailand’s current king spent his days as a monk here before his coronation. Today, it is not only a magnificent Thai temple, but a seat of learning for Buddhist monks with intellectual interests.

What to See

True to its name, the Marble Temple gleams with the polished white stone from Carrara’s quarries, including the pavement of the courtyards. Unlike the older temple complexes in Bangkok, the Marble Temple has no central wihaan or chedi. Instead, it has many smaller buildings that combine European influences (such as stained-glass windows) with traditional Thai religious architecture. The main bot contains a golden Buddha statue against an illuminated blue backdrop.

Beyond the main bot is a cloister containing over 50 bronze Buddha images in many different styles, representing various Buddhist countries and regions. Behind the cloister is a large Bodhi tree, bought from Bodhgaya (where the Buddha found Enlightenment) as a gift for King Chulalongkorn.

Wat Benchamabophit is an excellent place to watch religious festivals and processions. Unlike most other temples, monks do not go out seeking alms but are instead visited by merit-makers from 6-7am. During the early mornings, monks chant beautifully and intensely in the main chapel.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Wat Benchamabophit; Marble Temple
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Faith: Buddhism
Denomination: Thai
Category: Buddhist Temples
Date: 1899
Status: active
Visitor Information
Address: Si Ayutthaya Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Coordinates: 13.765959° N, 100.513465° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Opening hours: Daily 8am-5pm
Cost: 20B
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 04/13/2009.

Travel Resources

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Fodor’s Thailand, 8th edition
  2. Frommer’s Thailand
  3. Wat Benjamabophit – Thailand for Visitors
  4. The Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabophit) – TripAdvisor reviews, articles, and resources

Last updated on April 13, 2009.


Google Links


Angkor Thom – Cambodia

Angkor Thom – Cambodia

Angkor Thom means “the great city” in Khmer. The 12th-century royal Buddhist city is especially famed for its grand Bayon Temple, but has several other sights of interest as well.


The city of Angkor Thom was founded by Angkor’s greatest king, Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219), who came to power following the defeat of the former Khmer capital by the Chams. At its height, Angkor Thom may have governed a population of one million people in the surrounding area.

Angkor Thom was built in a nearly perfect square, the sides of which run north to south and east to west. It was surrounded by a square wall (jayagiri) 8m high and 12km in length and further protected by a 100m-wide moat (now dry), said to have contained ferocious crocodiles.

A gate opens exactly in the middle of each wall, from which a bridge extends over the moat to the area outside the royal city. The original royal palace at Angkor Thom, built in the 10th and 11th centuries, was probably built of wood and no longer stands.

What to See

The vast area of the Angkor Thom ruins, over a mile on one side, contains many stone temples and other features to explore. The city has five monumental gates (one in each wall plus an extra in the eastern wall), 20m high and decorated with stone elephant trunks and the king’s favorite motif, the four faces of Avalokiteshvara.

Each gate, which leads onto a causeway across the moat, is flanked with statues of 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right. This is a theme from the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Milk-Ocean (illustrated in the famous bas-relief at Angkor Wat).

The south gate is the best restored and most popular, but also the most busy since it leads directly to Angkor Wat. The east and west gates, found at the end of uneven trails, are more peaceful. The east gate was used for a scene in the Tomb Raider movie, in which the bad guys broke into the “tomb” by pulling down a giant apsara (actually made of polystyrene).

The Terrace of the Elephants served as a viewing platform for royal parties and depicts elephants and garuda (a mythical bird-like creature).

The Terrace of the Leper King is a decorative platform topped by a statue surrounded by four lesser statues, each facing away from the central statue. The central figure is probably a Khmer ruler who allegedly died of leprosy, either Yasovarman I or Jayavarman VII.

Bayon Temple (circa 1190) is a Buddhist temple but retains elements of Hindu cosmology and imagery. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, it represents the intersection of heaven and earth. It is known for its enigmatic smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara and its extraordinary bas-reliefs.

Just north of the Bayon is the stalwart Baphuon, a temple built in 1066 that is in the process of being put back together in a way that gives visitors an idea of what original temple construction might have been like.

Phimeanakas Temple, located on the site of the now-disappeared royal palace, is another pyramidal representation of Mt. Meru. Most of the decorative features are broken or have disappeared, but it is an interesting structure and can be climbed for good views of Baphuon Temple.

Quick Facts

Site Information
Names: Angkor Thom
Location: Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Faith: Buddhism
Denomination: Khmer
Categories: City Ruins; Buddhist Temples; World Heritage Sites
Architecture: Khmer
Date: c.1185
Features: Medieval Sculpture
Status: ruins
Visitor Information
Address: Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Coordinates: 13.439212° N, 103.859124° E   (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location
Opening hours: Daily dawn-dusk
Cost: Archaeological Park: US$20 for one day, US$40 for three days, US$60 for one week
Note: This information was accurate when published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip. Last update: 06/22/2009.

Travel Resources

  • Angkor Map – our detailed interactive map of Angkor, plus hand-picked links to more
  • Angkor Hotels – check availability, maps, photos and reviews, and book at the guaranteed lowest price
  • Angkor Guided Tours – sightseeing tours and activities in Angkor

Article Sources

Article written by Holly Hayes with reference to the following sources:

  1. Lonely Planet Cambodia (2005).
  2. Frommer’s Southeast Asia
  3. Angkor Map and Index – Oriental Architecture
  4. Angkor Thom, the Great Walled City – The Cultured Traveler, July 2004
  5. The Splendors of Angkor Thom – by Michael Buckley
  6. The Temple of Angkor Thom – Cambodian Online

Last updated on June 22, 2009.


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