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

Main article: List of 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.