Constructed in 1070, the well-preserved Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius and is a fine example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. The first national university was established at the temple in 1076 and a curriculum of Confucian principles, literature and poetry would be taught there for the next 800 years. Originally open just to children of the nobility, the rules were changed in the 15th century so that exceptional students from all social strata could enroll – they just had to pass the entrance exams. Today the temple is open to all visitors who pay the 20,000 dong entrance fee. Just be sure to leave your horse outside the gates.
Beyond the imposing main gate lies a series of courtyards, each with fantastically pruned bushes and colorful displays. My favorite bushes were shaped to represent each of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. The courtyards are accessed via gates dedicated to the virtues of literature and scholarship. A large pond called the Well of Heavenly Clarity sits at the center of the third courtyard. I imagine during university days this was a serene area meant for quiet reflection, but on our visit there was quite a hubbub as a bevy of beauties were filming a segment for a Vietnamese reality show. Confucius probably rolled over in his grave.
During the temple’s glory days, the university students could take the Imperial Exams administered by the monarch himself. Those who passed were given prestigious positions within the government. To honor their achievements, the graduates’ names were engraved on steles with a turtle – the symbol of longevity – at the base. 82 of the original 116 stelae are on display at the temple. Not to be eclipsed, the monarchs also had their own achievements carved into the stones.
A pavilion hidden at the back of the next courtyard holds the altars of Confucius and his four top disciples. Still an active place of worship, the air was heavy with the smoke of burning incense and the room was crowded with tourists and supplicants. Additional altars are dedicated to exceptional students from the university and honored philosophers. There is also a gold turtle on display that looks remarkably similar to the Hoan Kiem Lake specimen, but I wasn’t able to learn much about him.
Temple of Literature Address: Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hanoi, Vietnam Entrance Fee: 20,000 VND plus an extra 8,000 VND for the glossy brochure (1.40 USD total)
I love touring temples. This one looks interesting. I like all the bright colors. I grew up with hearing Confucius sayings. Although, I can’t remember any of them. Mom
The grounds of this temple were really lovely. You would have enjoyed all the flowers and ponds.