Temple of Literature, Hanoi: Journey into Vietnam’s Scholarly Heart Amid Serene Splendour

The Temple of Literature, or “Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam” in Vietnamese, is an eminent symbol of Hanoi, a testament to the city’s long academic history. Established in 1070 under the Ly Thanh Tong’s reign, it’s dedicated to Confucius – the venerated philosopher who laid the groundwork for much of East Asian culture and thought. The temple was also home to Vietnam’s first national university, the Imperial Academy, further cementing its importance as an educational and cultural landmark.

The Temple of Literature stands as an eloquent embodiment of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Spread over a sprawling complex filled with manicured gardens, tranquil ponds, and ornate pavilions, the temple is structured into five separate courtyards, each with its own significance and stories to tell.

Entering through the Van Mieu Gate brings you into the first courtyard, a serene haven of ancient trees and lush lawns. Here, one is immediately transported back in time, away from the city’s humdrum, and into an oasis of tranquility. This leads to the Dai Trung Gate, intricately carved with depictions of traditional Vietnamese motifs, and beyond it lies the second courtyard.

The second courtyard is home to the ancient Khue Van Pavilion, a unique octagonal structure that’s considered an emblem of Hanoi. Enclosed by brick walls, this courtyard houses a peaceful lotus pond, imparting a sense of serenity that aligns with the Confucian emphasis on harmony with nature.

The third courtyard houses the Thien Quang Well and the Stelae of Doctors. The 82 stone stelae rest on tortoise backs, engraved with names and birthplaces of those who passed the royal exams, a tribute to Vietnam’s intellectual elites. The Stelae of Doctors is a UNESCO World Heritage site, symbolizing the country’s deep reverence for education.

The fourth courtyard, also known as the Sage Courtyard, holds the House of Ceremonies and the Dai Thanh sanctuary, where Confucius and his four closest disciples are worshipped. The complex embodies the Confucian respect for hierarchical relationships, expressed in its detailed designs.

Finally, the fifth courtyard held the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first university, established in 1076. While it was reconstructed in 2000 following destruction, it serves as a vital link to the past, demonstrating Vietnam’s historical commitment to education.

The Temple of Literature offers an in-depth look into Vietnam’s scholarly traditions and Confucian values. Each nook and cranny of this place tells stories of Vietnam’s past, from the academic triumphs of its scholars to the architectural prowess of its artisans.

While in Hanoi, don’t miss the chance to wander through the Temple of Literature’s peaceful courtyards. Beyond its architectural splendor, it provides a profound insight into the country’s cultural and intellectual history. It remains, to this day, a site of academic achievement, where students come to pray for success in their studies – a modern echo of the scholars who once walked its historic pathways. The temple’s blend of historical significance, beautiful architecture, and serene atmosphere make it a must-visit location for anyone visiting Hanoi.