Dzong architecture

Dzong architecture is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan and the former Tibet. The architecture is massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation.

According to some sources, the initiator of the subdivision of Tibetan territories into regions each administered from a monastic fortress, would be Jangchub Gyaltsen (1302-1373), the first prince-abbot of the Phakmo Drupa dynasty.

The great period of construction or reconstruction of the dzongs was the first half of the seventeenth century: Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , 18th abbot of the drukpa monastery of Ralung in Tibet, came to take refuge in Bhutan, his reincarnation of a renowned scientist, the 4 e Gyalwang Drukpa Pema Karpo (the “White Lotus”), being disputed. Bearing the honorary title of shabdrung (literally “the one at whose feet one submits”), he established a state in which he instituted the dual system of civil and religious government exercised since the dzongs. Thus rose the fortresses of Simthoka (1631), Punakha (1637), Wangdue Phodrang (1639), Trashi Chho (1641), Paro (1646) and Drugyel (1647). According to Michel Praneuf, during the reign of Ngawang Namgyal, the country had to postpone five Tibetan invasions under the banners of the 5th Dalai Lama and the head of the Tsang province, the political and religious rivals of the Shabdrung.

In the nineteenth century, it was the Lords of the Law who disputed the domination of the valleys.

Intense activity prevailed in the fortresses where monks, servants, servants, craftsmen and soldiers crowded. The peasants brought their tax in kind to the government granary. The serfs attached to the lord of the dzong were busy under the supervision of intendants with a whip. One could also see there, the neck passed in a wooden cangue , prisoners of common law.

Today, serfs and soldiers have disappeared, the servants and servants live outside, only lamas remain. To enter a dzong, it is necessary to wear the traditional clothing, the ko for men, the kira for women.

The dzong was once the religious, military, administrative and social center of the district it commanded. It could house a garrison if necessary and an armory. It hosted the administrative structures of the district as well as the monks. It was also a place of exchange and often the site of a tséchu or annual religious festival.

There were two dzongpöns (literally “masters of the fort”) or prefects for each dzong: an ecclesiastic ( tsedung or tsedrung ) and a layman. They were entrusted with both civil and military powers and were equal in all respects.

The rooms inside the dzong are usually half dedicated to administrative functions (such as the penlop office or governor), and half to religious functions, mainly the temple and housing for the monks. This division between the administrative and the religious reflects the duality of power between the religious branch and the administrative branch of government (see History of Bhutan ) 8 .

Basements were used as stores to store taxes in kind (rice, buckwheat, mustard oil, butter, meat), at least until the adoption of the payment in cash.

The dzongs being generally built on a ridge, a tunnel was often built up to the nearest source in order to supply the fortress with water and allow it to resist a siege.

In times of war, the inhabitants of the nearby valley often took refuge in the fortress.

The Bhutanese architecture of the dzongs reached its peak in the second quarter of the 17th century under the leadership of the great lama Ngawang Namgyal . If the latter relied on visions and omens to place each of the dzongs, modern military strategists would not fail to point out that the dzongs are well placed from the defensive point of view.

Thus, Wangdue Phodrang’s dzong is located on a spur overlooking the confluence of the Puna Chhu and Tang Chhu rivers, thereby blocking any invasion by the south from invaders attempting to pass through the rivers rather than the rivers. unpaved slopes of the central Himalayas to attack central Bhutan.

Likewise, the Drukgyel Dzong, at the head of the Paro Valley, monitors the traditional Tibetan invasion path on the high Himalayan passes.

Dzongs were frequently located on the top of a hill or on a spur. If the dzong is built on the side of a valley, a smaller dzong or watchtower is usually built just upstream of the main dzong in order to ward off from the top of the slope attackers who could fire in the direction of the court from the main dzong below (see the image at the head of the article).

The Pungtang Dechen Photrang dzong in Punakha is unique in that it stands on a relatively flat tongue of land at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers (literally “mother river” and “father river”). The rivers surround the dzong on three sides, protecting it from assaults. This location proved unfortunate, however, when in 1994 a glacial lake 90 kilometers upstream burst its ice dam , causing on Pho Chhu a massive flood which damaged the fortress and made 23 victims .

Distinctive features include:

high walls with pronounced fruit, made of brick and stone and limed, blind or almost in the lower parts but with more and more openings as one rises (especially in the central tower) or utsé );
a red ocher liter ( kemar ) surrounding the top of the walls and sometimes punctuated by large golden circles;
roofs with rolled-up shores of Chinese style (roofs in pagoda) above the inner temples; Rectangular motifs covered with gilded copper draw folded bells, stems or parasols 6 ;
shingle covers (at least originally);
massive entrance doors made of wood and iron;
inner courtyards and temples decorated with brightly colored Buddhist artistic motifs , such as ashtamangala or swastika ;
in many cases, a watchtower erected either inside the fortress (as in the dzong of Jakar) or upstream of it (as in the Paro and Trongsa dzongs) 9 ;
in some cases, access protected by a cantilever bridge 9 ;
an entry preceded by a series of poles with prayer banners and the Bhutanese flag. 6
Severely damaged by the 1897 earthquake, most of the dzongs have since been restored or rebuilt in the original style. Many of them also suffered disastrous fires due to the use of butter lamps in the temples.

By tradition, dzongs are constructed without the use of architectural plans. Instead construction proceeds under the direction of a high lama who establishes each dimension by means of spiritual inspiration.

In previous times the dzongs were built using corvée labor which was applied as a tax against each household in the district. Under this obligation each family was to provide or hire a decreed number of workers to work for several months at a time (during quiet periods in the agricultural year) in the construction of the dzong.

Dzongs comprise heavy masonry curtain walls surrounding one or more courtyards. The main functional spaces are usually arranged in two separate areas: the administrative offices; and the religious functions – including temples and monks’ accommodation. This accommodation is arranged along the inside of the outer walls and often as a separate stone tower located centrally within the courtyard, housing the main temple, that can be used as an inner defensible citadel. The main internal structures are again built with stone (or as in domestic architecture by rammed clay blocks), and whitewashed inside and out, with a broad red ochre band at the top on the outside. The larger spaces such as the temple have massive internal timber columns and beams to create galleries around an open central full height area. Smaller structures are of elaborately carved and painted timber construction.

The roofs are massively constructed in hardwood and bamboo, highly decorated at the eaves, and are constructed traditionally without the use of nails. They are open at the eaves to provide a ventilated storage area. They were traditionally finished with timber shingles weighted down with stones; but in almost all cases this has now been replaced with corrugated galvanised iron roofing. The roof of Tongsa Dzong, illustrated, is one of the few shingle roofs to survive and was being restored in 2006/7.

The courtyards, usually stone-flagged, are generally at a higher level than the outside and approached by massive staircases and narrow defensible entrances with large wooden doors. All doors have thresholds to discourage the entrance of spirits. Temples are usually set at a level above the courtyard with further staircases up to them.

The main dzongs

The Drukgyel dzong
Standing on a ridge at 2,580 m above sea level, the Drukgyel Fortress (or Drukgyal) (literally, “Bhutan’s victory fortress”) was built in 1647 by the Ngawang Namgyal shabdrung to commemorate the victory in 1644 of Bhutanese on Tibetan invaders led by Mongol warlord Gurshi Khan.

Protected by three towers and accessible from a single direction, it monitored the traditional invasion path of Tibetans on the high Himalayan passes. It gives superb views of the Bhutanese sacred mountain, Mount Chomolhori (or Jhomolhari) (altitude: 7,314 m ).

The fortress had the most beautiful armory in the country. She received the honors of the American National Geographic magazine in 1914.

It served as an administrative center and summer residence for the Ringpung Rabdey when it was ravaged in 1951 by a fire caused by a lamp with butter.

Today, the dzong is nothing but ruins dominated by the empty carcass of the central tower. It is planned to restore it and, in the meantime, temporary roofs have been protecting the buildings since 1985.

The dzong of Punakha
The oldest dzong in the country after that of Simthoka, its nickname is Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (“palace of great bliss”). It was built in 1636-1637 by the great lama Ngawang Namgyal, at the confluence of the rivers Pho (“male”) and Mo (“female”). The latter took its winter quarters in the central tower which dominates the fortress of its 7 floors. The dzong was considerably enlarged between 1744 and 1763 under the 13th desi (head of government), Sherab Wangchuk. As the seat of government, he saw the reception of several foreign embassies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

180 meters long and 72 meters wide, the dzong housed up to 600 monks. Among its defenses, it has a huge wooden door, closed and barred every night, access is by very steep steps that can be removed.

There are three courtyards, the first being reserved for administration and justice. At the bottom of the third stands the meeting room with 54 golden pillars.

It experienced six fires, floods (in 1957, 1960 and 1994) and was badly damaged by the 1897 earthquake. Its restoration was done using traditional materials and techniques.

The sober proportions of the building, the harmonious and colorful opposition of the horizontal and vertical lines, testify to the mastery of the Bhutanese builders.

The interior, richly decorated, conceals a world charged with symbolism: cosmic mandalas, Buddhas, tantric divinities, etc.

A temple houses the mummified body of the shabdrung , who died in these places in 1651.

It is here that on December 17, 1907, the first king of Bhutan, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk, was crowned. The Bhutanese National Assembly elected it until Timphu replaced Punakha as the capital of the country in 1961.

The spiritual authority of the country, the I Khempo , has its winter quarters there.

The Rinpung dzong in Paro
Built in 1646 in the region of Paro (Western Bhutan) under the reign of Ngawang Nangyal shabdrung , the Dzong Rinpung (or Rinchen Pung dzong) (literally “the fortress on a heap of jewels”) replaced a small fort of the fifteenth century.

It is reached by a wooden footbridge covered with shingles and flanked by two masonry towers, which cross the Paro Chhu ; it is named Nemi Zam.

Unlike the other dzongs, it crossed the 1897 earthquake without notable damage, but was ravaged by a fire in 1907. It was rebuilt immediately, on the same model, thanks to a special tax levied throughout Bhutan.

Massive but elegant structure, it is known for the quality of woodwork (windows, porches, finely carved pillars) as well as for its “cosmic mandalas”, representing the universe seen by two different philosophical currents.

The square central or utsé tower, built in 1649, dominates the inner courtyard and the whole fortress. It contains two temples or lhakhangs .

The dzong is home to a community of 200 monks and district administrative services. His temple as well as his access footbridge served as a backdrop in 1993 to the film of Bernardo Bertolucci Little Buddha .

The courtyard houses the annual Pare religious feast ( tsechu ) in the spring, during which a 300-year-old sacred banner ( thangka ) is unworn on one side of a building: the faithful come touch it briefly, before dawn, where it coiled to prevent it from being damaged by the sun’s rays.

Upstream of the fortress, stands an old circular watchtower, with walls 2.5 m thick, which was also used to lock up prisoners of war. Built in 1656, it was restored and converted in 1968, under the name of dzong ta ( ta meaning “to see”), a national museum housing, on 7 levels , collections of statues and religious paintings ( thangka ), of ancient weapons and armor, costumes, jewelery, coins, stamps, manuscripts, teapots, etc., covering 1500 years of the country’s history. The visit is made according to a rising and falling way in the direction of the needles of a watch.

The Simtokha dzong near Thimphu
Located 8 km from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan since 1961, the Simtokha Dzong (another spelling: Semtokha) is the first of six fortresses that the great Lama Ngawang Nangyal undertook to build to consolidate his new holdings in western Bhutan. The area chosen for its location is on the borders of three major western regions: Sha, Wang and Pa. This dzong is the model of fortress-monasteries built afterwards, combining defensive function and religious function. The first stone was laid in 1629 and the building finished in 1631.

The whole, which kept most of its original plan and structure, was restored from 2005 to 2008: the roofs were redone, the eastern door demolished. It has two temples. The central or utsé tower is inspired by the plan of a mandala with 12 sides.

Today, it houses the Institute of Linguistic and Cultural Studies (created under the name of École Rigney in 1961), where the future teachers of the country’s official language, the dzongkha , are trained . on the other hand a monastic school ( shedra ) for young monks.

The dzong of Trashi Chho
Built in 1641 by the Ngawang Namgyal shabdrung along the Wangchu River and near a first dzong dating back to 1216, the Trashi Chho dzong (another spelling: Tashi Chhoe) (literally the “fortress of the glorious religion”) knew various vicissitudes (extensions, fire, earthquake) before being rebuilt according to tradition (without plans or nails) from 1962 to 1969 by King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk to serve as a new seat in the Bhutanese government (the National Assembly of meets there until 1993).

There are two entries, one for government officials, the other for religious leaders and common people.

Built of granite for the structural work, the dzong forms a quadrangular ensemble with two-storey sides on basement, with at each corner a three-storey square tower, also on basement, surmounted by three declining levels of roofs, the whole being dominated by a big central or utsé tower. The interior is richly decorated, including the temple in the courtyard of the state clergy.

The dzong now houses the ministries of the interior and finance, the throne room, the king’s secretariat and the summer residence of I khenpo , the supreme spiritual authority of the country.

Every year, the place is the seat of a festival of sacred dances performed by llamas wearing masks and costumes.

The dzong of Trongsa
Located 2,200 m above sea level and 130 km east of Wangdu Phodrang, the Trongsa Dzong (or Tongsa) (literally “New Village”) is the largest and most impressive dzong in the country. 18 . He stretches and climbs on a spur overlooking the Mangde Chhu Gorge, watching the comings and goings between western Bhutan and central Bhutan. It was built in 1644 on the site of a temple dating from 1543 and surrounded by a few huts. The builder is Chhogyel Mingyur Tenpa, commissioner sent by the great lama Ngawang Namgyal to subdue the eastern part of the country. The only mule road linking East to West Bhutan ran through the very center of the fortress. It was enough to close the doors to cut off communications between the two parts of the country.

The fortress was enlarged at the end of the 17th century and increased by a temple in 1771.

Upstream, on the side of the mountain, stands a large watchtower called ta dzong , built in 1760. It has a rather narrow central circular building block, with five levels, and two wings that project forward, from 4 levels.

The Trongsa dzong is the ancestral seat of the current royal family, the Wangchuk Dynasty. The first and second kings of Bhutan have ruled the country since this dzong. The crown prince is usually the honorary ( penlop ) governor before ascending the throne.

The ensemble serves as administrative headquarters and monastery for the Trongsa region. The interior is a maze of temples, corridors, offices. They housed up to 1,500 monks and administrators. A stupa occupies the site of the 17th century temple.

After the 1897 earthquake, it was repaired several times.

The dzong houses a printing press of religious texts and two chapels housed in the watchtower, one dedicated to Jampa, the buddha of future times, the other to Gesar de Ling , the famous hero of the Tibetan epic.

The roofs of the buildings are bright yellow.

The Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
Built in 1639 by the Ngawang Nangyal Shabdrung, the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong (another spelling: Wangdiphodrang) is located on a spur of 1350 meters above the confluence of the Punak Chhu and Tang Chhu rivers in central Bhutan. Because of its location, it controlled the roads connecting western and eastern Bhutan.

It was enlarged in 1683 by the 4th temporary ruler of Bhutan, Gyse Tenzin Rabgye.

It has three parts that stretch along the spur. There is only one entry.

Cacti had been planted on the slopes of the promontory to deter possible attackers.

While it was being renovated, the fortress burned down completely in June 2012.

The other dzongs
The dzong Dobji
This dzong, which lies in the Paro region, stands on a rock bordering a ravine at the bottom of which flows the river Pachhu-Wangchhu. It was built in 1531 by Ngawang Chhogyal, who brought 100 carpenters and masons from Druk Ralung in western Tibet. The central tower is believed to have survived an earthquake that destroyed the other buildings.

In 1976, the dzong was renovated to serve as a prison.

The dzong of Gasa
Built on an east-facing slope, the Gasa dzong is the administrative center of the Gasa region in the north-west of the country.

Most historians attribute the construction to Ngawang Namgyal in 1648 to protect against attacks from the north.

Unlike the other fortresses, it has a circular shape and has three watchtowers. The central tower is a three-storey building.

It houses two temples.

The whole was severely damaged by a fire in January 2008.

The Jakar dzong
This fortress stands on a hill overlooking the city of Jakar in the Bumthang region. Built by the great-grandfather of the first shabdrung , it was enlarged by the latter in 1646 to allow it to consolidate its hold on the eastern region. Its name “the fortress of the white bird”) would come from the white bird that would have landed on the hill just when one was looking for a location for the future building.

It would have suffered only one fire in its history (unlike other dzongs) but did not escape the earthquake of 1897.

This dzong is distinguished by its central tower or utsé , high about fifty meters.

It serves as administrative and monastic headquarters for the Bumthang Valley and as a summer residence for the monks of the Trongsa dzong.

The dzong of Lhuntse
At the origin of this fortress, a small fort built by Nagag Wangchuk in 1552, under the name of Leyley Dzong in tribute to the local deity who appeared to him in the form of a goat. At its site, the penlop Minjur Tenpa would have built in 1654 the current fortress, the dzong Lhundrub Richens (or Lhundrup Rinchhentse). This dzong now houses 200 monks.

The dzong of Mongar
It is one of the most recent dzongs of the country since built in the nineteenth century and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk in the 1950s (while respecting the classical technique, that is to say without plan or nails).

It combines administrative function and monastic function and houses two temples within it.

The dzong of Singye
This dzong is located in the Kurtoe gewog (canton) three days walk from Lhuntse in eastern Bhutan. It stands at 3000 m altitude.

Passing before him in 1906 to reach Tibet, the British political agent John Claude White calls him “very small fort, which hardly deserves the name”. In fact, it is one of the most sacred sites in the whole country, Guru Rinpoche having meditated in the eighth century .

The dzong of Trashigang
The Dzong of Trashigang (or Tashigang), which occupies a strategic position on a spur overlooking the valley of the Drangmé Chuu river in the east of the country, was built in 1659 by the 3 rd desi (head of the government) to stop the incursions from Tibet.

It was subsequently enlarged and renovated on two occasions. It has a single courtyard and houses several temples.

The dzong of Dagana
This dzong, which dominates the city of Dagana , was built in the late 1990s when the region was created.

The Wangchuk Lo Dzong
This dzong, also known as Ha dzong, was built in 1913 by Kazi Ugyen Dorje (in) , the drungpa de Ha, replacing the Dumchog dzong, which had burned down entirely.

Built in 1895, the Dzong of Dumchog had a watchtower ( ta dzong ) because it was near the border with Tibet. In addition to its military and civilian functions, Dumchog served as a granary for the local population. Only a few ruined walls remain today.

Built one kilometer from its predecessor, the new dzong took the name of Dzongsar Wangchuk Lo Dzong. It contains a chapel served by monks, the other parts housing the offices of the Royal Army of Bhutan .

The Zhemgang Dzong
It stands on a ridge that faces the city of Zhemgang and on which a hermitage was founded in the twelfth century by Lam Zhang Dorje Drakpa.

In 1655, a single-level dzong was built in the place of the hermitage.

In 1963, the dzong was renovated by King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk to serve as a center for the newly created district of Zhemgang. On this occasion, he was renamed dzong of Druk Dechen or Dechen Yangtse.

It has 6 temples. A festival has been held every year since 1966.

The Zhongar dzong
Located in the district of Mongar, on a hill facing the village of Truelangbi, it is reduced to ruins.

Modern architecture in the dzong style
Larger modern buildings in Bhutan often use the form and many of the external characteristics of dzong architecture in their construction, although incorporating modern techniques such as a concrete frame.

The campus architecture of the University of Texas at El Paso or UTEP is a rare example of dzong style seen outside the Himalayas. Initial phases were designed by El Paso architect Henry Trost, and later phases have continued in the same style.

Source From Wikipedia