The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
A return ticket to Vietnamese most outstanding and distinctive history and culture
The Temple of Literature is not only a historical witness of Hanoi capital for thousands of years, but also the “birthplace” of many talented intellectuals of the country.
1) The history of The Temple of Literature
Temple of Literature, Hanoi was built in 1070 (the second year of King Ly Thanh Tong’s reign) to worship the saints, monks of the Confucianism, and at the same time functioned as a royal school whose first student was Prince Ly Can Duc, son of King Ly Thanh Tong. In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong set up the Imperial Academy (also known as Quốc Tử Giám) at The Temple of Literature as a school dedicated to the king’s children and the great nobles of the court.
King Tran Thai Tong changed the Imperial Academy to the National Academy, extending and acquiring all the children of ordinary civilians with excellent academic qualifications. Under the reign of King Tran Minh Tong (1314 – 1329), the respected and famous educator Chu Van An was appointed to be the headmaster and direct teacher of the princes., after his death, King Tran Thien Tong honoured and worshipped him at The Temple of Literature, next to the famous Confucius. In 1785, King Le Hien Tong decided to change the name Imperial Academy. Until the beginning of Nguyen Dynasty, Quoc Tu Giam was established in Hue and underwent another change in its name.
2) The magnificent and unique architecture of The Temple of Literature Complex
From the outside, the entire complex of Temple of Literature, Hanoi is surrounded by four walls built of large bricks – the most common architectural material of the post-Le period, creating an ancient, dignified and nostalgic space. Inside the wall, the ancient architectural roofs hidden beneath the sumptuous leaves of the ancient trees bring to this place a completely different scene with the outside, creating a special attraction for visitors.
In front of Tthe Temple of Literature and across the Imperial Academy, there is a large lake called Ho Van (Literature Lake). Previously, in the middle of the lake, there is a hillock called Kim Chau, on which the Confucian poetry discussion took place. Although this place no longer existed, on the hillock was a stele set up in the year of King Tu Duc(1865) to record the renovation of the Temple of Literature.
Located in a huge campus, the interior of The Temple of Literature is divided into 5 different areas, separated by walls built by ancient bricks.
The first area starts from the Temple of Literature to the Great Middle Gate. Before entering this historical place, visitors will have to go through four large columns (four pillars) which are built of brick, in which the two pillars are higher and on top sits the two lion-shaped statues; the lower two pillars are carved with four phoenixes whose tails huddle together and four heads turn in four directions. The pillars’ body is embossed with parallel sentences in Han language. Both sides are decorated with stelae commanding horsemen to dismount (Bia “Hạ Mã”)
Through the exterior area, tourists go straight to The Temple of Literature including 3 arch doors, in which the central door was built with two floors. The lower floor is designed with a big space and a staircase leading upstairs. Outside the lower floor, there is only a roll door whose wings are made of wood and embossed with double dragon faces. The upper floor has a smaller space with 4 roofs and 4 porches. This floor consists of 3 rolling doors hanging bells in the central door and is surrounded by a wide corridor.
Following the path from The Temple of Literature, visitors continue their discovery through the Great Middle Gate (Đại Trung Môn). This gate includes 3 rooms and is flanked by two smaller gates: the Dai Tai gate (Đại Tài) and Thanh Duc gate (Thành Đức). The wall connecting three doors of the Great Middle Gate stretches out to the outside walls, along with the horizontal wall, forms a square frame with many green trees and shade inside for visitors to relax when taking a walk.
The second area contains the Khue Van pavilion (Khuê Văn Các). Khue Van pavilion, a unique architectural work built in 1805, is a square-shaped space with two floors and eight roofs. The lower floor consists of four pillars and is left empty on four sides. The upper floor stands out with wooden architecture, tile roofs and shapes symbolizing Khue stars shining in the sky. On both sides of Khue Van pavilion stand two gates with the name of Crystallization of Letters and Magnificence of Letters to honour the beauty and value of Literature. Khue Van pavilion is not only praised as a distinctive architecture but also a symbol of Vietnamese culture and literature.
The third area is made of Well of Heavenly Clarity and a system of Stelae of Doctors (Bia Tiến sĩ). Thien Quang well, also known as the well of Literature, is square-shaped and filled with water all year round. The calm water becomes a mirror reflecting the shades of Khue Van pavilion and ancient trees, creating a sparkling and fanciful scenery. In ancient times, people believe the square well represents the land and the round door symbolizes the sky. The essence of heaven and earth is concentrated in the center of cultural education of Hanoi capital.
Moreover, the visitor will have chances to witness for themselves the well-known Stelae of Doctors on both sides of the Well. These stelae are regarded as a valuable relic in The Temple of Literature complex, including 82 stone inscriptions engraved with articles of Confucian doctors in the Le Dynasty and Mac Dynasty (1442-1779). All the stelae are made in the same style, which has a flat, curved forehead and arch-shaped.
The stelae are placed on the back of turtles to signify the permanence of the national essence and reflect the cultural values and history of the country during more than 300 years. This is an extremely valuable source to assist the next generation in studying the life and career of many Vietnamese notables. With notable values, in 2010, 82 stelae of Doctors in The Temple of Literature have been recognized as the World Heritage Data under the Memory Program of UNESCO.
After admiring the Stelae of Doctors and going through the Dai Thanh gate, history lovers arrive at a large courtyard signalling the fourth area of this historical complex. On each side of the fourth courtyard stand two halls. They were built with the purpose of housing altars to the seventy-two most honoured disciples of Confucius and Chu Văn An.
In the centre of the fourth courtyard lies the House of Ceremonies (Đại Bái Đường). The next building is the Thượng Điện, where Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi and Mencius are worshipped. The sanctuary also hosts altars to ten honoured philosophers. In addition, a small museum displays inkwells, pens, books and personal artefacts belonging to some of the students that studied at the temple. Presently, only the central hall of Đại Bái Đường is continuously worshipped while the remaining halls are empty. Many horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences praised Confucianism and philosophers.
In parallel with the House of Ceremonies, in the back is the Dai Thanh Temple – a delicate architecture of 9 compartments in total – sits the Great throne of Confucius.
The fifth area of the Temple of Literature complex is “Nhà Thái Học” – derived from the name “the Imperial Academy” – is where talented intellectuals are trained. Through the ups and downs of history, the old building was destroyed. In 1999, “Nhà Thái Học” was rebuilt with a more majestic and remarkable architecture to create a harmony with the surrounding landscape of this historical destination.
The ground floor is devoted to worship Chu Van An – the world cultural celebrity and a prominent teacher of Vietnam. Besides, this place also exhibits documents about the Temple of Literature as well as the education of Vietnamese Confucianism. The upper floor is the worshipping space of three monarchs who contributed greatly to the foundation of the temple and the academy: King Ly Thanh Tong – who founded the temple ; King Ly Nhan Tong – who created the Imperial Academy; and King Le Thanh Tong – who ordered the erection of the turtle stone stelae of doctors.
3) The functions and positions of the Temple of Literature
Furthermore, the Temple of Literature and the Imperial Academy is also the house of a great number of typical cultural activities such as scientific seminars, specialized exhibitions, ceremonies of the excellent graduates from universities and institutes in Hanoi or the annual Book Fairs, the Day of Poetry of Vietnam … emp
Due to its long history and cultural depth, in May 2012, the Temple of Literature, Hanoi was recognized by the Prime Minister as a special national monument. The Temple of Literature has always been a fascinating cultural tourist destination, attracting a large number of domestic and international tourists to visit and explore Vietnamese culture and history.