Digital technologies help to better protect the Potala Palace in the Tibet Autonomous Region

The Potala Palace, a cultural site with over 1,300 years of history and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Tibet Autonomous Region, is constantly being updated with digital technology.

With a simple click of the mouse, people can see on the screens a 3D model of the architectural complex, as well as details of the painting of the Potala Palace, thanks to 800 sensors installed there, which recorded more than 10 million data. In addition, more than 1,500 surveillance devices and about 9 kilometers of optical fiber detection cables were installed to protect the ancient buildings of the Palace.

The photo shows the majestic Potala Palace in Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (in southwest China). (Duan Hongwen/

The digitization of the palace was initiated by Dawa Ngodrup, director of the Potala Palace Digital Administration Center, who worked there for 17 years.

He made this decision after his visit to Dunhuang Academy in Gansu province in 2006. During this visit, he was surprised to see the many technologies used to map and protect the murals and ancient structures of the Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. .

Since then, Dawa Ngodrup spent almost all of his time at the Potala Palace for several years, as he did not have much time to photograph the murals as the palace was visited by a large number of tourists during the day. During these years, Dawa Ngodrup always worked overtime until midnight photographing the details of the palace murals while climbing the stairs.

A tourist takes a picture of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, July 2, 2020. (Wang Jianfeng/

In addition to digitizing thousands of square meters of murals, Dawa Ngodrup also started a project to digitally model the entire Palace, which was a big challenge since the Palace has a complex structure with many interior spaces. In addition, since it was difficult to map the walls of the Palace built on the mountainside and there was little information about the foundation of the Palace, many technologies were used, including drone aerial photography, 3D laser scanning, and multi-angle image reconstruction. conduct a digital simulation of the entire Palace.

“We did this in order to create a comprehensive database of cultural relics of the palace, to facilitate the work of researchers and to minimize the risk of damage to cultural relics,” said Thubten Tsering, deputy head of the heritage management center of the Potala Palace Administration Office.

Real-time structural monitoring of the Potala Palace to observe the state of the architecture is an example of the use of modern technology to maintain this cultural site. Structural monitoring is a prerequisite for opening the Palace to the public within its capacity. It is also an integral part of effectively protecting the Palace itself and preventing potential risks.

The photo shows the digitization of the frescoes of the Potala Palace. (Photo from Sanya Museum official website)

The monitoring system was developed by Professor Yang Na and his team from the Center for Structural Survey and Monitoring of the Potala Palace, Beijing Jiaotong University. After four years of preparation, the first phase of the Potala Palace Structural Monitoring System was officially put into operation in October 2012 to monitor key parts of the palace’s timber structures.

By studying the impact of the tourist flow on the wooden structures of the Palace, the system allowed the installation of a control mechanism that regulates the number of visitors according to the deformation of the structure caused by the tourist flow, in order to avoid any damage. brought to the palace by visitors.

In 2015, the second stage of the system began, which covers even more difficult to observe parts, including the walls, foundations and caves of the Palace.

Staff can now check data from the walls of the Palace through an app on their mobile phone thanks to the installation of 388 sensors, including crack meters, inclinometers and soil moisture meters, which can monitor any changes in crack width, ambient temperature. , slope angles of walls and pillars and other basic parameters. They can also detect any natural disasters that threaten the Palace’s security, such as earthquakes and lightning, in a timely manner. The second phase of the system, which will be launched in August 2021, can automatically generate quarterly analytical reports and analyze the state of the architecture according to the data.

The murals of the Potala Palace have been repaired. (Photo from Sanya Museum official website)

“In ten years, we have recorded more than 10 million palace datasets, which helped us understand the overall changes to the Potala Palace,” Yang said.

The Potala Palace has low fire resistance and contains many flammable cultural relics such as Buddhist classics and tanka, a type of Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton and silk. The Palace has an automatic fire alarm system, including 1,524 sensors, buttons and modules, 8,710 meters of fiber optic cables for temperature detection, and 86 video fire detectors. In addition, the palace has an intelligent power consumption control system. Detection devices covered the entire Palace to prevent the risk of fire as much as possible.

“Digital technology and various monitoring tools are helping us to better preserve the Potala Palace, a historical and cultural site with a history of more than 1,300 years,” said Mr. Jondan, director of the palace administration. He added that these technologies protect not only the Potala Palace, but also other cultural relics in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

(Xu Yuyao, People’s Daily correspondent)