The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is Vietnam’s oldest and finest monument to its fine education. It was built for the purpose that academicians and literary may be felicitated and recognized.
The 1,000 year old city of Hanoi only predates the Temple of Literature for only a few dozen years which today takes its visitors into the middle of the country’s long and eventful history. Although most natural calamities and wars have almost destroyed the original temple entirely, restoration work was done in 1920, 1954 and 2000 giving back the temple much of its former glory.
Being within the temple premises offers a tranquil environment compared to the busy and dusty streets of Hanoi found just outside the temple’s perimeters. The high brick walls, green surroundings and bushy trees then create a bubble of calmness right in the heart of Hanoi.
The temple grounds are home to two institutions: the shrine in honor of Confucius which is called Van Mieu and Quoc Tu Giam, a former university for mandarins that translates to the “Temple of the King Who Distinguished Literature”. The shrine was built in 1070 while the university was established in 1076.
King Ly Thanh Tong of the Ly Dynasty first built the Van Mieu to commemorate Confucius, who was a paragon of learning in a bureaucracy that was heavily influenced by the Chinese. A few years later, Quoc Tu Giam was opened to the public to educate the growing civil service college students making it the country’s first university. At first, the sons of mandarins were the only ones allowed to be admitted up until the Mongol invasions during the 13th Century. Quoc Tu Giam then opened its doors to talented commoners that allowed the cream of the working class a step up into the bureaucracy.
By the 15th Century, the practice of carving names of new doctors into stone plagues or stelae was introduced. The Imperial Academy was them moved to Hue by Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802. Although examinations continued until 1919, the Temple of Literature continues to be an important part of the tradition that was revived again as a tourist spot.
The Temple of Literature covers a sequence of five courtyards from north to south that are separated by three pathways that run through the Temple’s entire length. The first courtyard is the Entrance To Way while the second courtyard is the Great Middle Gate. From there, visitors will reach the Constellation of Literature Pavilions which eventually leads to the third courtyard, the Garden of the Stelae with its many stone turtles. The fourth courtyard leads to the Courtyard of the Sages which is a place of worship to the great Chinese teacher Confucius. Finally, the fifth courtyard houses the dormitories and classrooms of the university which is called the School for the Sons of the Nation.
Visitors will be able to enjoy the ambiance of the academic within the Temple’s courtyards today much thanks to the names of its graduates encrypted on stone stelaes. Today, the Temple of Literature preserves the academic and scholarly expertise of the capital of Vietnam and will continue to boast of its fine academe for centuries.