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Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa

China
Factors affecting the property in 1996*
  • Deliberate destruction of heritage
  • Housing
  • Major visitor accommodation and associated infrastructure
  • Management activities
  • Management systems/ management plan
  • Relative humidity
  • Ritual / spiritual / religious and associative uses
International Assistance: requests for the property until 1996
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved : 0 USD
Missions to the property until 1996**
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 1996

When Potala Palace was inscribed on the World Heritage List in December 1994, the Committee requested the Chinese authorities to consider the future extension of the World Heritage protected area to cover Jokhang Temple and the historic sector of Barkor which are already part of the core preservation zone of the city of Lhasa, one of China's historic cities under State protection.

Pressures of urban development and growth in tourism-related activities are resulting in many construction activities in this historic sector of Lhasa. While the building regulations of the Municipality of Lhasa, endorsed by the State, prohibit the demolition of historic buildings, much of the reconstruction work being carried out have entailed the demolition of the historic structures and rebuilding with new material and design features undermining the authenticity of the buildings.

Similarly, in Shol, the former administrative area of Potala Palace, which is part of the World Heritage protected area, the rehabilitation work being carried out involves the demolition of post-1959 adjunctions to the traditional houses, their reconstruction and the widening of the streets. These activities, while well-intended, are risking irreversible changes to the historic character of this area.

Moreover, the mural painting of Potala Palace in general, is marked by deterioration caused by humidity and the application of lacquer varnish in the 1960s - 70s, which have resulted in flaking of the surface and decoloration of the painting. The authenticity of the mural paintings are further threatened by alteration of the original appearance due to excessive "retouching" and in some cases, total repainting over the original. Damage is also caused by smoke from yak-butter lamps used for religious offerings. While the age-long use of yak-butter should not be stopped, preventive measures can be introduced to lessen the impact on the paintings.

Under the China-Norway-UNESCO cooperative project for the preservation of Tibetan cultural properties, a training course on mural painting restoration techniques has been proposed and now pending approval by the Chinese authorities. Using the mural painting in Lukhang Temple which is part of the World Heritage Potala Palace complex, as a pilot project, the proposed training course envisages the rehabilitation of the temple roof to stop rainwater infiltration and to experiment on the removal of the lacquer varnish on the mural painting followed by the conservation of the painting with use of traditional non-chemical paint.

Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies in 1996

The Bureau may wish to adopt the following text and transmit it to the Committee for noting:

"The Bureau taking note of the report on the state of conservation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa,

(a) encourages the Chinese authorities to strengthen the cooperation with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre's Programme for the Safeguarding and Development of Historic Cities of Asia, notably in the re-evaluation of the Lhasa Urban Master Plan to integrate the preservation of the historic urban fabric as part of the overall urban development plan, and to develop technical guidelines on conservation practice of historic buildings;

(b) urges the Chinese authorities to expedite authorization for the proposed training course on mural painting conservation techniques under the China-Norway-UNESCO project for the preservation of Tibetan cultural properties;

(c) encourages the Chinese authorities to consider the extension of the World Heritage protected area to cover Jokhang Temple and the historic centre of Barkor, as recommended by the Committee at its eighteenth session in December 1994."

Decisions adopted by the Committee in 1996
20 COM VII.D.48/49
SOC: Potala Palace in Lhasa (People's Republic of China)

VII.48 Potala Palace in Lhasa (People's Republic of China)

The Secretariat reported that pressures of urban development and growth in tourism-related activities are resulting in many construction acti vi ties in the historic sector of Lhasa with a negative impact on historic structures and their authenticity. Furthermore, in Shol, the former administrative area of Potala Palace, which is part of the World Heritage protected area, the works undertaken on the historic buildings and the widening of the streets risk causing irreversible changes to the historic character of this area.

The mural paintings of Potala are threatened by humidity, the application of lacquer varnish in the 1960s and 70s, alteration of the original appearance due to excessive "retouching", and smoke from yak butter lamps. It was noted that, under the China-Norway-UNESCO cooperative project for the preservation of Tibetan cultural properties, a training course on mural painting restoration techniques has been proposed and is now pending approval by the Chinese authorities.

The Committee was informed that the Delegate of China to the Committee, attending the twentieth extraordinary session of the Bureau as observer, indicated that the preservation of Tibetan cultural heritage has been one of the highest priorities of China. He expressed his Government's appreciation for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre's technical assistance and the mobilization of international cooperation to support the Government's preservation efforts. He indicated that the Chinese authorities were in favour of the extension of the Potala Palace World Heritage Site to include Jokhang Temple and the surrounding historic area, as recommended by the Committee. He also informed the Bureau that the proposed China-Norway-UNESCO cooperative project, in which a mural painting restoration training course is planned, is being carefully examined by the Chinese authorities.

The Representative of ICCROM and a number of Bureau members offered their expertise and interest in participating in mural painting conservation activities.

The Committee took note of the report of the Secretariat, and:

(a) encouraged the Chinese authorities to strengthen cooperation with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre's Programme for the Safeguarding and Development of Historic Cities of Asia, notably in the re-evaluation of the Lhasa Urban Master Plan to integrate the preservation of the historic urban fabric as part of the overall urban development plan, and to develop technical guidelines on conservation practice of historic buildings;

(b) encouraged the Chinese authorities to strengthen international cooperation in mural painting conservation activities and in other fields in the preservation of Tibetan cultural heritage within the framework of the World Heritage Convention;

(c) encouraged the Chinese authorities to consider the extension of the World Heritage protected area to cover Jokhang Temple and the historic centre of Barkor, as recommended by the Committee at its eighteenth session in December 1994.

Report year: 1996
China
Date of Inscription: 1994
Category: Cultural
Criteria: (i)(iv)(vi)
Documents examined by the Committee
arrow_circle_right 20COM (1996)
Exports

* : The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).

** : All mission reports are not always available electronically.


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