The Info List - Dzong

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architecture is a distinctive type of fortress (Wylie: rdzong, IPA: [tzɦoŋ˩˨]) 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.


1 Characteristics 2 Regional differences

2.1 Bhutan 2.2 Tibet

3 Siting of dzongs 4 Construction 5 Modern architecture in the dzong style 6 See also 7 References 8 Further reading 9 External links

Characteristics[edit] Distinctive features include:

High inward sloping walls of brick and stone painted white with few or no windows in the lower sections of the wall Use of a surrounding red ochre stripe near the top of the walls, sometimes punctuated by large gold circles. Use of unique style flared roofs atop interior temples. Massive entry doors made of wood and iron Interior courtyards and temples brightly colored in Buddhist-themed art motifs such as the ashtamangala or swastika, for example.

Regional differences[edit] Bhutan[edit] See also: History of Bhutan Dzongs serve as the religious, military, administrative, and social centers of their district. They are often the site of an annual tsechu or religious festival. The rooms inside the dzong are typically allocated half to administrative function (such as the office of the penlop or governor), and half to religious function, primarily the temple and housing for monks. This division between administrative and religious functions reflects the idealized duality of power between the religious and administrative branches of government. Tibet[edit] Further information: List of administrative divisions of the Tibet Autonomous Region Tibet
used to be divided into 53 prefecture districts also called dzongs.[1] There were two dzongpöns for each dzong, a lama and a layman. They were entrusted with both civil and military powers and are equal in all respects, though subordinate to the generals and the Chinese amban in military matters,[2] until the expulsion of the ambans following the Xinhai Revolution
Xinhai Revolution
in 1912.[1] Today, 71 counties in the Tibet Autonomous Region
Tibet Autonomous Region
are called dzongs in the Tibetic languages. Siting of dzongs[edit]

Trongsa Dzong, the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan.

Bhutanese dzong architecture reached its zenith in the 17th century under the leadership of Ngawang Namgyal, the 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche. The Zhabdrung relied on visions and omens to site each of the dzongs. Modern military strategists would observe that the dzongs are well-sited with regard to their function as defensive fortresses. Wangdue Phodrang
Wangdue Phodrang
dzong, for instance, is set upon a spur overlooking the confluence of the Sankosh (Puna Tsang) and Tang Rivers, thus blocking any attacks by southern invaders who attempted to use a river route to bypass the trackless slopes of the middle Himalayas in attacking central Bhutan. Drukgyel Dzong
at the head of the Paro valley guards the traditional Tibetan invasion path over the passes of the high Himalayas.

at Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan.

Dzongs were frequently built on a hilltop or mountain spur. If the dzong is built on the side of a valley wall, a smaller dzong or watchtower is typically built directly uphill from the main dzong with the purpose of keeping the slope clear of attackers who might otherwise shoot downward into the courtyard of the main dzong below (see image at head of article). Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong
is distinctive in that it is sited on a relatively flat spit of land at the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers. The rivers surround the dzong on three sides, providing protection from attack. This siting proved inauspicious, however, when in 1994 a glacial lake 90 kilometers upstream burst through its ice dam to cause a massive flood on the Pho Chhu, damaging the dzong and taking 23 lives. Construction[edit]

Roof construction at Tongsa dzong.

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.

Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong
and the Mo Chhu

Simtokha Dzong
Simtokha Dzong
near Thimphu

and tower of Rinpung Dzong
Rinpung Dzong
at Paro

Modern architecture in the dzong style[edit] 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
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.[3]

To the left is the College of Business, to the right the College of Engineering

UTEP's Academic Services Building


See also[edit]

Architectural style Architecture of Bhutan Driglam namzha


^ a b Le Tibet, Marc Moniez, Christian Deweirdt, Monique Masse, Éditions de l'Adret, Paris, 1999, ISBN 2-907629-46-8 ^ Das, Sarat Chandra. (1902). Lhasa and Central Tibet. Reprint (1988): Mehra Offset Press, Delhi, p. 176. ^ For more details see the UTEP
Handbook of Operations Archived 2012-02-10 at the Wayback Machine..

Further reading[edit]

Amundsen, Ingun B (Winter 2001). "On Bhutanese and Tibetan Dzongs" (PDF). Journal of Bhutan
Studies. 5: 8–41.  Bernier, Ronald M. (1997). Himalayan Architecture. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 0-8386-3602-0. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dzongs.

Dzongs of Bhutan Designs for Trashi Chhoe Dzong
Precinct, Thimphu, Bhutan

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