Talk about Bhutan and you talk automatically about Buddhism. This religion is integrated in all aspects of the country, including architecture. Typical is the degree of uniformity: all structures correspond with traditional designs. You see this reflected in the chortens (stupa's), temples, monasteries, fortresses, houses, mansions and farms. Although there is a clear commonality, each Bhutanese valley has its own architectural character. The differences are found in the building material that’s been used, ranging from mud to stone, and the special ambience that’s so typical for its dzongs and monasteries.
In the 12th century dzongs were introduced to Bhutan. All dzongs are based on the same layout, but each has its' own unique design. The outer walls and buildings are the circumference with at its' heart a central temple, often in a big courtyard. The dzongs are not only beautifully designed, you’ll also find many art treasures here.
Each valley has a dzong as a striking landmark. They are often build atop steep ridges, strategical outlook points or between fast flowing rivers. Whereas these massive ancient monastery castles where built for defence, they nowadays have become a symbol of security and stability, serving as headquarters for the civil and monastic administration of each district. Bhutan’s most famous monastery is the Taktsang dzong (Tiger’s Nest).
It’s not surprising that a country so naturally influenced by Buddhism, counts over 2.000 monasteries. Everywhere you look, even in the most remote areas, you’ll find a monastery of some kind. All monasteries have a maroon band near the top of the building. Sitting atop some monasteries, you even find a golden ‘sertog’ or pinnacle. The monasteries spiritually serve the communities living around them. They are often the center of cultural, religious, secular and administrative events, hosting important ceremonies and festivals.
Just like several other Asian countries, Bhutan is home of thousands of chortens. In Buddhism, these stupas symbolize a cistern. They indicate the people’s deep faith. Even today many new chortens are built. There are eight different forms or styles of chortens, like the mani dungkhor housing a large prayer wheel or the chortens with an archway over a trail. Bhutan’s most important chorten is the National Memorial Chorten. This stupa with wonderful statues and wall paintings is dedicated to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutans third king.