An Introduction to Lhasa

The city of Lhasa (lha sa) is the heart of cultural Tibet. Its importance dates back

to its status as the capital of the Tibetan Empire in the seventh and eighth centuries,

and as the capital of the Dalai Lama's government from the seventeenth century onwards. In

China it serves as the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Lhasa has also been perhaps the most important

religious site over the history of Tibet. It is home to the Jokhang (jo

khang) temple complex, founded by the seventh century Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po) and residence of the most famous

religious image in Tibet - the Jowo

(jo bo) statue of the Buddha

Shakyamuni. The Jokhang is the nucleus of

central Lhasa's commercial and religious Barkor (bar

skor) area. The Potala (po ta la), built in the seventeenth century by

the fifth Dalai Lama as his palace and one of the greatest examples of Tibetan

architecture, is also located in the Lhasa

valley. Finally, two of the three great seats of Geluk (dge

lugs) monasticism - Sera (se ra) and Drepung ('bras spungs) - have

been located here since the fifteenth century.

The city of Lhasa is located in the southern part

of the Tibetan high plateau at an altitude of 3650m above sea level and on roughly the

same latitude as Cairo. The valley in which Lhasa

is situated is formed by the river Kyichu

(skyid chu), a tributary of the

Tsangpo (gtsang po, known as the Brahmaputra in India). The

dominant peaks surrounding Lhasa range between

4400m and 5300m above sea level.