LHASA -- Refurbishment work on Potala Palace here in the capital of the Tibet autonomous region will be completed before the end of the year, a spokesman for the palace said Wednesday.
The 200 million yuan ($29 million) scheme, which was launched in 2002, has mostly focused on reinforcing the palace's aging foundations, Jampa Gesang, head of the Potala Palace administration office, said.
Two girls dress in Tibetan costumes stand in Potala Palace Square in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, August 6, 2008. [Xinhua]
As long as there are no unforeseen complications, the repair work should be completed by the end of the year and will be good for at least 50 years, he said.
This latest large-scale refurbishment is the second in the palace's 1,300-year history.
Commissioned by Tibetan King Songtsa Gambo in the 7th century, during the time of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it was extended in 17th century by the incumbent Dalai Lama.
Between 1989 and 1994, the central government spent 55 million yuan on repairs to the palace's aging walls and replacing rotten woodwork.
Although the 13-story building, which stands on Red Hill, 3,600 m above sea level, always looks good from the outside, its interior was becoming fragile, Jampa said.
When he joined the administration office in 1989, he said he was told experts had identified a number of structural problems.
"Some of the walls that had been exposed to the elements for centuries had begun to list, and many wooden structures such as beams and pillars had been seriously damaged by insects," he said.
The problems with the foundations were also identified at that time, but work on them could not begin until 2002, after funding had been secured, Jampa said.
Zhang Zhiping, a senior engineer with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said earlier that all refurbishment work carried out on Potala Palace is made more complicated due to its unique position on top of a mountain.
To make matters more complicated, there are no blueprints for the palace, Jampa said.
"I had to guide the engineers underground so that they could assess the condition of the foundations," he said.
As of the middle of last month, more than 90 percent of the repair work on the foundations had been completed, he said.
Except for the 10 days following the March 14 riots in Lhasa, Potala Palace has remained open to tourists throughout the refurbishment project, he said.
However, a new limit of no more than 2,300 tourists per day was introduced last month, he said.
"After speaking with several experts we have also decided to install handrails in all passages later this year, which will help to channel visitors better and limit their numbers in certain sections of the palace," Jampa said.
At the moment, as many as 60 visitors are allowed to gather in some rooms, and that is simply too much pressure on the foundations, he said.
The new measures will help ensure Tibet's precious architectural icon, which is already on the United Nations' World Heritage List (along with Norbu Linkag, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama), is around for many more centuries to come, he said.