In the middle of Hanoi - the thousand-year-old capital of Vietnam, lies Temple of Literature - a relic that boasts intellect and elegance. It once was a reputable institution which attracted the most brilliant minds of Vietnam, and now is a celebrated tourist attraction. We shall see what helped Temple of Literature stood the test of time.
Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) is Vietnam’s special national relic. It was built in 1070 in Hanoi under Emperor Lý Thánh Tông’s order, initially to honor Confucius. Shortly afterward, the magnificent temple became the Imperial Academy (Quốc Tử Giám) – Vietnam’s first ever national university. It was the most prestigious institution for scholars, quite like how we perceive Harvard or Oxford University in modern days. At first, the university was solely for educating the rich, bureaucrats and royalty, but later on, it was accessible for everyone who has outstanding academic records since education was considered utterly essential and there weren’t enough higher education institutions.
Despite the war’s destruction and several restorations, the temple still retains its intricate details
You can spot Temple of Literature on the back of the VND 100,000 banknote. Nowadays, the Temple acts as a historical monument which highlights Vietnam’s cultural development, the creation of a uniform educational system and a contribution to Confucius ideology within South East Asia and worldwide.
If visiting a university sounds mundane to you, then Temple of Literature is going to change that impression completely. Besides being a 1000-year-old relic, Temple of Literature also bewilders its visitors with charming architecture throughout the feudal dynasties.
The four pillars (nghi môn) are decorated with nghê and phoenixes - Vietnamese mythical creatures
The temple is divided into 5 distinctive courtyards. Each courtyard is separated by brick walls, with gates leading from one to another. The gates have three entrances and the middle of which was preserved for kings only.
Gleaming gardens of old trees surround the first two courtyards. Taking a stroll on the age-old walks and breathing in fresh air, one can feel the solemn and serene atmosphere forever woven in the Temple of Literature.
The verdant green spaces inside the first gate
The second gate is called Đại Trung Môn (which is literally translated as The Big Main Gate), with Thanh Duc Gate (Cổng Thành Đức) to the left and Dat Tai Gate (Cổng Đạt Tài) to the right. Those two smaller gates represent the hope for both outstanding talent and high moral standards in a person.
Students often visit the Temple of Literature to wish for good lucks in their exams
Dat Tai Gate - The Gate of Talent
The second courtyard leads to Khuê Văn Các pavilion (Constellation of Literature pavilion) – a small but romantic building that represents starlight, where sages used to converse about literature.
Khuê Văn Các was built as a dedication to the love and appreciation for the beauty of literature. The design is meant to depict the harmony of Yin and Yang and such an iconic structure that Khuê Văn Các has become the symbol of Vietnam’s capital.
Khuê Văn Các is supposed to be where the intellectuals meet
The pavilion opens to the Well of Heavenly Clarity (Thiên Quang Tỉnh) with 82 stone steles on either side of the well. These steles were engraved with doctorate holders’ names; each placed on a tortoise’s shell. They were recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as a World Documentary Heritage Site. This site is also where students often come to pray for good luck before major examinations. They pray and touch the tortoise’s head on the steles, in hopes of getting blessings. However, this act is now forbidden to preserve the relic.
While the circle details on Khuê Văn Các symbolize the sky, the Well - built in a rectangular shape - symbolizes the earth
The ancient architecture highlights the co-existence of Yin and Yang
The stone steles placed on both sides of the well
There were 82 exams held consecutively from 1442 to 1779 under the Lê and Mạc dynasty. The exams were carried out rigorously so as to find the most deserving individuals for the ruling system. That is to say, during the hay day of the Temple of Literature, education was of paramount importance.
The tortoise is believed to be the embodiment of wisdom and longevity
The fourth courtyard, called Sage Courtyard, is for worshipping of sages. It includes a statue of Confucius, four of his famed disciples, and a house of ceremonies.
Điện Đại Thành - The Sage Courtyard
The courtyard is meant to worship Confucius
The House of Ceremonies in the middle
The last courtyard is Thái Học which was built where the Imperial Academy once was.
Thai Hoc Gate
Thai Hoc Courtyard is where traditional ceremonies, exhibitions, … usually take place
The ground floor of the Thai Hoc Courtyard is used to commemorate Chu Văn An - one of the most prestigious teachers in Vietnam. The upstairs is used to honor the three kings that had the most prominent contribution to the country’s education and culture.
Chu Van An’s altar on the ground floor
Ly Thanh Tong (1023 - 1072)
Ly Nhan Tong (1066 - 1128)
Le Thanh Tong (1442 - 1497)
Now it doesn’t sound boring anymore, isn’t it? With picturesque design and profound underlying messages, Temple of Literature is not a place to miss when you want to understand about Vietnamese culture.
The copper bell
Outfits of the candidates when taking the exam
Outfits of the doctors
The books and examination papers
Antiques at the souvenir shop
Or you can purchase some calligraphies from the local artists
Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Van Mieu, Dong Da, Hanoi
Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM, daily
Entrance fee: VND 30,000 (Children under 15 years old and visitors with severe disability: Free)
VND 30,000 for an entrance ticket
Temple of Literature situates near Ba Dinh Square, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, the Presidential Palace and 2 kilometers away from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Read more on The 5 Most Fascinating Museums in Vietnam
A trip to Hanoi would never be completed if you don’t visit Temple of Literature – a critical site of history and architecture. We guarantee that you'll fall in love with either the harmonious exterior or the time-honored stories of the place. Temple of Literature is also conveniently situated among top attractions in Hanoi, so pack your bags and jot down this address now for an unforgettable experience!
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© Written by Ngan Mai and Kim Hoang for itourvn.com
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