Dzongs in Bhutan

Until today, reflecting the “duality power”, the worldly and the religious functions have been living in the Dzongs of Bhutan side by side under one roof: on one side, formerly the regional Prince or Penlop, nowadays the Dzongda or District Governor; in a separate part, the monastery with its many temples under a high ranking Abbot with his monks.

Many Dzongs are built near a river or a confluence of two rivers. Then they are, traditionally, reached by wooden and roofed bazams or cantilever bridges.

By tradition, Dzongs are constructed without the use of architectural plans. Instead construction proceeds under the direction of a high Lama who defines each  dimension by means of spiritual inspiration. The sites for Dzongs were chosen in regard to their function as defensive fortresses. Above some Dzongs, directly uphill, a ta-dzong or watchtower was built: its purpose was to keep the slope above clear of attackers who might otherwise shoot fire arrows onto the wooden shingle roofs and destroy the Dzong. Trongsa Dzong and Paro Dzong are examples. Some of the defensive features of Dzongs are the steep wooden draw stairways and heavy
wooden doors, closed at night or against attack. The heavy masonry curtain walls usually surround one or more courtyards. In the center of a courtyardusually stands an utze, a tower with temples on various levels which can be used as an inner defensible citadel. utzes and other religious buildings, like all other structures, are whitewashed inside and out, but distinguished by a broad red ochre band at the outside top. The larger internal spaces of temples and halls have massive timber
columns and beams, elaborately carved and painted. Some columns are covered by gilded copper sheets. The beams and columns create sometimes multi-storied, galleries around an open central area.

The materials used in building a Dzong consist of compacted earth, stones and timber in floors, ceilings, doors and windows. The roofs are massively constructed in hardwood and bamboo, highly decorated at the eaves. Traditionally they are constructed without the use of nails. They are open at the eaves to provide a ventilated storage area. The roofs were traditionally finished with timber shingles weighted down with stones; but in almost all cases they have by now been replaced with corrugated iron. The courtyards are usually stone-flagged. All doors have high thresholds to discourage the entrance of bad spirits.