Tibet is restoring a series of 600-year-old buildings at Sangtsu Tsezung Palace, the oldest building in Xigaze and the traditional residence of the Panchen Lama.
Sangtsu Tsezung Palace is little-known to people outside of Tibet but a household name in the snow-covered area in southwest China. Xigaze is located some 250 kilometers from Tibet's capital Lhasa
Built in 1363, the main structure of the palace is more than 120 meters tall and looks similar to the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa, thus earning the nickname "Mini-Potala Palace."
The palace fell into disrepair and is now on the verge of collapse. Most of the contents have been removed, but the palace foundation is still solid.
For hundreds of years the palace was a place of government and worship for the elite of Tibetan society. "Common Tibetans were not allowed to go up there. The basement of the palace contains cells for prisoners. In the old days, parents often frightened children by threatening to send them there if they did not behave themselves," recalled Cering, a 73-year-old Tibetan woman living nearby.
The renovation project is being sponsored by Shanghai's government which is putting up 40 million yuan (US$5 million) and it's being undertaken by the Architecture School of Shanghai Tongji University.
When it is completed in May 2007, the castle-like structure will have 7,500 square meters of floor space, said Qoi'gyi Gyaincain, an architect and living Buddha with Tibet Autonomous Regional Architecture Prospecting and Design Institute.
Sangtsu Tsezung Palace is an excellent example of Tibetan architecture technique which some believe are even better than the famous Potala Palace which was build hundreds of years earlier, said Qoi'gyi Gyaincain.
The original Potala Palace in Lhasha was built in the 7th century but was destroyed by fire after it was hit by lightening. That palace was rebuilt about 300 years ago by the 5th Dalai Lama, which makes Xigaze's Sangtsu Tsezung Palace 330 years older than the rebuilt Potala Palace.
"We feel in our hearts that like Potala Palace, Sangtsu Tsezung Palace is a sacred and magnificent building," said 74-year-old Zhaxi Namgyai, in Liuwu Township near Xigaze.
From the 14th century to the 15th century Tibet set up 13 administrative centers throughout the region and erected a building in each centre for both religious and administrative purposes.
Sangtsu Tsezung Palace was the last and largest of the 13 administrative centers to be built and therefore benefited from the skills of many experienced crafts people.
Local Tibetans have their own legend about the history of Sangtsu Tsezung Palace.
"Many years ago, a skilled Tibetan architect journeyed to Lhasa to pay tribute to Buddha. When he saw the magnificent Potala Palace, he decided to build the same building in his hometown," said Zhaxi Namgyai.
"He carved the design of the Potala Palace onto a turnip but the turnip shrank as he trekked home. A replica of Potala Palace was built but on a smaller scale," said Zhaxi Namgyai.
"The Sangtsu Tsezung Palace and the Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery, the traditional palace residence of Panchen Lama, were the most magnificent buildings in Xigaze when we were children," said Cering as she thought back to your childhood more than 70 years ago.
The restorers will examine the remains of the palace to better understand Tibetan architecture techniques. Archival photographs and records will help architects duplicate the palace's original appearance, said Hai Shuanglin, an architect in charge of the project from Tongji University.
But Qoi'gyi Gyaincain also expresses worries about the restoration: "Protection of the ruins would be more meaningful if the building is not successfully restored or lacks historical accuracy."
(Xinhua News Agency December 23, 2005)