Built for several purposes, the Potala served as administrative center, seat of government, monastery, fortress and the home of all the Dalai Lamas from the Fifth to the Fourteenth, although from the end of the eighteenth century, when the Norbulingka was built as the summer palace, they stayed here only in winter. The name Potala is possibly derived from Mount Potalaka, the mythological abode of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. There are also some theories suggesting that Potala derived its name from the Sabarimala temple in South India.
The general layout of the Potala includes the White Palace for the living quarters of the Dalai Lama and the Red Palace for religious functions. The construction of the present palace began in 1645 under the fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. In 1648, the Potrang Karpo (White Palace) was completed, and 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. The Red Palace contains many halls and chapels - the most stunning chapels house the jewel-bedecked tombs of 5th to 13th Dalai Lamas. The apartments of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas in the White Palace offer an insight into the high life.
The Potala is a treasure and a treasure house, that it contains the golden handwritten Buddhist scriptures, valuable gifts from Chinese emperors, and a lot of priceless antiques. There are many colorful sculptures and paintings chronicling Buddhist folklore and ancient Tibetan life. The Potala Palace deserves the title of art gallery and museum; it is also a symbol of the wisdom and power of the Tibetan people. In 1994 it was listed as an UNESCO world cultural heritage site.