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Tibet Architectures: monastery, palace, tomb & folk house

Traditional Potala Palace. Photo: Outlook Tibet
When talking about Tibetan architecture, most people associate it with Tibetan Buddhist architecture, especially the elaborately decorated temples and monasteries with notable Buddhist characteristics. However, Tibet architecture is more than that.

With its long history, distinctive regional characteristics and profound Tibetan cultural traditions, Tibet has created a unique style of architecture art rich in scientific and aesthetic value. The architectures in tombs, monasteries and temples, as well as palaces and residential buildings, are treasures of the architecture art of Tibet.
Architectures of Ancient Tombs

To date among the Tibetan ancient architecture sites, the tombs are the most on the part of quality and distribution. The occurrence of the Tibetan tomb architectures was closely related with the changes in the types of funeral and burial customs. Since Drigum Tsanpo, all the successive tranpos were inhumation when passed away and special architectures were built on the tombs for people to mourn for them.

Most of the Tibetan royal tombs were backed by mountains. The tombs are generally in cube, with each plane being in square or trapezoid. The material used usually are earth, stone, grass, logs, etc. The mixture of earth, stone and grass was rammed to form the building. Between each ramming of 7 to 10 cm thick there laid a row of logs to reinforce the tombs.

The Tomb of Songtsen Gampo and the Tomb of Trisong Detran are a general reflection of the tomb architecture during the Tubo Kingdom periods. The magnificence of the tomb structure and the solemn of the stone works are of a strong artistic fascination. With the collapse of the kingdom and influence of the Tibetan Buddhist cultures, the tomb architectures phased out.
Architectures of Tibet Monasteries

The architecture art of the Tibetan monasteries and temples is the most Tibetan and times-relevant among all the Tibetan ancient architecture arts. Most of them were built on the mountains with delicate design and color and grand looking.

From the stupas and chortens dotted the countryside, to the elaborate and colorful temples and monastery complexes that ascend the mountains, Tibetan Buddhist architecture is a devout expression of the spirituality of Tibetan people and profound understanding of their natural surroundings.

The Tibetan Buddhist architecture gradually developed from just niches and ritual halls to independent building complexes, and eventually separated from the palace architectures, after the extensive spreading of Buddhism and strong supporting by Songtsen Gampo and his successors.

From initial temple buildings to the formation of the architecture styles of the Tibetan monasteries, it has gone through 3 stages: temple, monastery and combination of monastery and palace.

Temple Architecture
Monastery Architecture
Pagoda Architecture

Architectures of Tibetan Palaces

Palace architecture is another milestone in the history of the Tibetan architecture arts. It went through 3 developing stages: castle art, palace art, art incorporating palace and monastery arts.

Castle Art
Palace Art
Combination Art: incorporating palace and monastery arts

Architectures of Local Residence

Architectures of Tibetan Residence are colorful and unique and varied according to regional conditions. The great variation in climate, geography, elevation, between places in Tibet makes Tibetan people to build different residence with different materials and styles. Some are light structure with pure wood, some are mixed structure of wood and earth, some are heavy structure with thick earth walls, and some are movable tents with different styles……

The mixed structure of earth, stone and wood is mainly prevalent in Lhasa and Tsang region. In the forested region of Southeast Tibet, such as in Nyingchi and Qamdo prefectures, wooden or semi-wooden construction is popular. In Ngari Prefecture, the mean sea level is above 5,000 meters, and wood and masonry are relatively in shortage. So people there use adobe as main material plus a few stone and wood to construct their house.

Tents are widely used in pastoral area in Northern Tibet. They are usually made of yak hair that can keep warm and are foldable and movable. In Northern Tibet, the mean sea level is above 4,000 meters and construction material is limited. There are few tall arbor trees and hard masonry available. Furthermore, herders there lead a nomadic life according to seasons, especially in summer and winter, following the available resources of grass for herds. Therefore, tents become the best choice of herders.



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