Well-known as the first university in Vietnam, the Temple of Literature Hanoi contains the quintessence of the national feudal historical periods as well as preserves many traditional and cultural values of the country.
In this post, I will give you all the interesting information about the Temple of Literature, or Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám in Vietnamese, the symbol of the capital city of Vietnam. Be aware that the historical info in this post could flood your brain. Nevertheless, I’m sure you will find it so much fascinating, especially to travelers who love history and culture trips.
- In 1070, during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong, a Temple was built to worship Duke of Zhou, Confucius, and four of his students – Yan Hui, Zengzi, Wu Zixu, and Mencius.
- In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong built the very first literature school for the king and noble families.
- Within the reign of King Tran Thai Tong, it was renamed the Imperial Academy in 1253. The building allowed the talented children of ordinary people to study. After that, it became a place to organize examinations, aiming to foster talents, train talented people to appoint officials, and join in building the country.
- Entering the Early Lê Dynasty, King Le Thanh Tong ordered the building of steles of the scholars who passed the examination from 1442 onwards. Today, there are 82 steles left.
Meaning of the Temple of Literature Hanoi
Now, the Temple of Literature Hanoi is not only considered to be the first university in Vietnam, but it also has a great meaning to the Vietnamese tradition of studiousness. Besides, the temple is also a destination to organize poetry festivals, a place to praise outstanding and excellent students, and a famous tourist spot that attracts many domestic and international tourists when coming to Hanoi.
At every traditional Lunar New Year, people come here to ask “letters” from the masters with a wish for a peaceful and happy new year. Or, at every exam season, the scholars come here to offer incense with the hope of passing as their examination as predecessors.
Where is the Temple’s Location?
The Temple of Literature Hanoi is located on Quoc Tu Giam Street, in the area of Dong Da District, Hanoi. Formerly, it belonged to Minh Giam hamlet, Huu Nghiem, Tho Xuong. While in the French colonial period, it belonged to Thinh Hoa, Yen Ha, Hoang Long, Ha Dong villages. Its four sides are four main streets: the South is Quoc Tu Giam Street as well as the main gate, the North is Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, the East is Van Mieu Street, and the West is Ton Duc Thang Street.
Road to the Temple
If you start from Hoan Kiem Lake, go along Le Thai To Street, turn right to Trang Thi Street, go to Cua Nam and Nguyen Khuyen Streets, then turn left to Van Mieu Street.
If you go by bus, you can take the following routes – 02, 23, 38, 25, 41. They will have stops near the area of the temple.
How are the Temple of Literature Hanoi Entrance Fee and the Schedule?
Do You Have to Pay for the Ticket?
Yes, you may have to pay for the ticket in order to enter the temple:
- For adults – VND 30,000/ person;
- Children, pupils, students, people with disabilities, people in extremely difficult communes in mountainous and remote areas, people with meritorious services to the revolution – VND 15,000/ person;
- For children under 15 years old, people with special severe disabilities – Free.
Opening Hours for Sightseeing
The temple opens every day from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. Particularly at the weekend, the temple opens 30′ late and closes 3h behind the weekday schedule. And among that, opening hours change on the seasons:
- In Summer (from 15/4 to 15/10) – 7:30 am to 5:30 pm
- In the remaining time of year – 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
You can always stop by the cafés at Hanoi Train Street for a good breakfast before visiting the temple.
Learn about the Temple’s Architecture
Visiting the capital of Vietnam, alongside Hanoi foods, the Temple of Literature’s architecture is something a must-known. Currently, this monument complex is located on a 55,027m2 campus with many small architectural works inside. Those include Literature lake, The Great Middle gate, The Great Portico, Well of Heavenly Clarity, Attained Talent gate, Constellation of Literature pavilion, Drum Tower Pavilion, Stele of Doctors, etc.
Houses for teaching and learning in the East and West include 14 rooms. The whole architecture here is the original architecture of the Nguyen Dynasty, arranged symmetrically for each area, each layer along the North-South axis, simulating the image of Confucius temple but still retaining the artistic style of the nation’s tradition.
In front of the Temple of Literature, there is a large lake called Literature Lake. In the middle of the lake is Kim Chau mound. Additionally, there are 4 pillars in the main gate with the Steles-commanding-horsemen-to-dismount alongside, surrounded by high walls.
Areas That You Can Visit in the Temple
Visitors will be able to visit 5 areas of the Temple of Literature Hanoi. If you carefully notice, you will see each area has its own function with walls surrounded but connects together by the gates.
The First Courtyard – The Great Portico
There is a road in the middle of the area that leads to the Great Middle gate. The two sides have the Dai Tai gate and Thanh Duc gate.
The Second Courtyard – The Great Success
From the Great Middle gate to the Constellation of Literature pavilion, this architecture is said to be the symbol of the Temple of Literature as well as the capital Hanoi. Besides that, the image of the Constellation of Literature pavilion is also printed on the VND 100,000 bill.
For your extra information, The Constellation of Literature pavilion, or Khue Van Cac in Vietnamese, means guarding the beauty of Khue star. Specifically, the architecture is 9 meters in height. The upper flat is constructed with 8 sloping roofs, 4 on the top, 4 on the bottom, and surrounded by the 4 round windows, which attract light from all the 4 directions. The whole pavilion is built on a well-proportioned square platform with a length of 6.8 meters each side.
On the left and right of the Constellation of Literature pavilion is Magnificence of Letters gate and Crystallization of Letters gate that lead to the areas of Steles of Doctors.
The Third Courtyard – Well of Heavenly Clarity and Stelae of Doctors
Passing the Constellation of Literature pavilion, visitors will see the Well of Heavenly Clarity and the Steles of Doctors. The softness of the round Constellation of Literature pavilion symbolizes heaven. The toughness of the square Well of Heavenly Clarity symbolizes the earth. The two together create the harmony of heaven and earth, as the feng shui that creates a unique point for the Temple of Literature.
On both sides of the lake are the Steles of Doctors. Each stele is made of stone, engraved with the names of the contestants who passed the examination with high positions. The steles are placed on the back of the stone turtles. There are still 82 steles of the examinations from 1442 to 1779. All of them are the most precious relics of the monument.
The Fourth Courtyard – The Attained Talent
As the center of the temple, there are 2 architectural works arranged in parallel and successive. This is the place to worship Duke of Zhou, Confucius, and four of his students, etc. In the middle, there is a large yard for worship activities.
The Fifth Courtyard – The Imperial Academy
This is the first national university in Vietnam including its different sections. This place was built on the ancient land of the Temple of Literature Hanoi, which is also the place of worshiping the kings Ly Thanh Tong, Ly Nhan Tong, Le Thanh Tong, and Chu Van An.
Doctoral Stele: A Precious Relic of Vietnamese History
Through the study of 82 steles, historians or visitors can find documents on educational history, and names that associated with national history such as homeland, identity, dynasty. Moreover, many philosophers can find evidence here to determine the role of Confucianism in Vietnam.
The inscriptions on the steles have a continuous system, at least for 3 centuries (from 1484 to 1780). Fine art researchers and visual artists can learn from the epitaphs, turtles, patterns, and carved motifs on the steles to find the quintessence of national art to make ideas and apply to modern creation.
13 Interesting Facts about the Temple of Literature Hanoi
1. Calligraphy writer To Ngai was the first person to write the Seal script in the first 7 steles on the history of Steles of Doctors in Vietnam. On August 15 1484, in the 15th Hong Duc year, King Le Thanh Tong erected 7 steles with doctoral titles at the Temple of Literature. This is the first batch of Steles of Doctors, which clearly marked the examinations from 1442 to 1481. This set a precedent, and the erection of the steles lasted until the Nguyen Dynasty.
The writing of the steles was made officers in the Academy during the Hong Duc years, and the writing was also administered high-level people of the province. Nonetheless, in the first batch, all of the steles were made by To Ngai, with his title marked on the stele.
2. The most famous sentence engraved on the stele of the Temple of Literature is “The national talent is the important national resource”, written by Than Nhan Trung on the stele of the 1442 exam, built in 1484. This is the stele of the first examination of the Le dynasty, the third Bao Dai year.
Currently, this stele is located in the middle of the eastern area of the Temple of Literature Hanoi. The entire text of this stele means “The talent is the national spirit. When the spirit prospers, the nation becomes stronger and higher. When the spirit weakens, the nation becomes low. Therefore, no noble kings who take no action of finding and using the talents for the nation”.
This sentence is engraved repeatedly in the next examination. In the first examination in 1442, Ngo Si Lien, a very famous historian in Vietnam, had his name on the stele.
3. The largest Tho script engraved on the stele is written in the style of Thao Phong. It’s the writing style of Hy Di Tran Doan, the founder of Horoscope, and also a famous calligraphy writer in the Song Dynasty.
This stele was engraved in 1731, and Nguyen Nghiem (1708-1775) was a mandarin of the Later Le Dynasty in Vietnamese history. He was born and raised in Tien Dien village, Nghi Xuan district. He was the father of Nguyen Du, aka Hong Ngu. Nguyen Nghiem was also a scholar of the Temple of Literature.
4. Up to now, people still think that turtles wearing the steles are the mascot that shows longevity. Similarly, the turtles wear the steles at the Temple of Literature. However, there is an assumption that the animal wearing the stele is similar to a tortoise named Bi Hy (or Ba Ha). The starting point of this assumption is the legend of “Dragon gives nonuplets born” in the book Vu Trung of Vu Phuong Do.
According to this legend, the dragon gave birth to nine children, but they did not bear the mother’s form. Among them is an animal called Bi Hy, which looks like a turtle. It symbolizes heavy capacity and longevity.
5. The largest doctoral steles at the Temple of Literature Hanoi belong to the examination of the late 18th century, under the Le – Trinh Dynasty. There are more than 10 steles of this type. The large, small in size of the steles of different ages are determined by many factors, one of which is the aesthetic conception of each different age.
6. All written lines about Trinh Lords on the doctoral steles in the Temple of Literature are opaque and erased. According to Professor Do Van Ninh, it was a product from the Nguyen Dynasty, when in 1840, King Minh Mang ordered to erase the praises of the Trinh’s merit. On the other hand, the later dynasties did not want Trinh Lords to stand on the same level as the Le kings, so they ordered the writing to be removed.
8. While the steles are decorated with chrysanthemum, dragon, unicorn, turtle, and phoenix, the stele in 1643 is unique with the image of farmers beside the buffalo. Nguyen Vinh Phuc, a Hanoi scholar, said that this is a very valuable thing when there were images of peasants, showing the encouragement and respect of agriculture of that time.
9. Based on the text of the farmer Trai Van Chuong, it is said that Quang Trung army went to Bac Thanh to destroy Thanh army and saw steles at the Temple of Literature were scattered. Hence, Trai Van Chuong asked King Quang Trung to rearrange the steles.
However, whether the arrangement had happened or not is studying. The article is not found in the original Chinese, only in some Vietnamese documents.
10. The most well-known politician who touched the head of the turtle in the Templer of Literature Hanoi was the former US president, Bill Clinton. The touch shows that Bill Clinton values Vietnamese culture and knowledge as well. Yet, it is hard to know which politician firstly touched the head of the turtle. Bill’s visit to Vietnam in Nov 2000 was the first time US politicians visited Vietnam after 1975.
11. The thickest book about the temple’s steles is ‘the Steles that name Doctors of Vietnam’. Its Vietnamese name is Văn bia đề danh tiến sỹ Việt Nam, just in case you look for. In detail, the book has 1000-page, written by Associate Professor Trinh Khac Manh, and published by Education Publishing House in 2006. The book’s size is 16 cm x 24 cm, weight is 2000 grams, being one of the special reference books.
This is considered to be “a great reference book of high scientific and practical value. Containing significant political, cultural, and educational meaning. And beautifully presented”. This book gained the Bronze prize as the Best Book of the industry in 2007.
12. The first doctoral dissertation on the overall study of steles is called the Stele of Study Encouragement (in Vietnamese: Văn bia khuyến học). In which, the research on the steles in Temple of Literature Hanoi is the most important of this doctoral thesis. Ph.D. student Nguyen Huu Mui conducted the thesis in 2006.
13. The largest number of visitors to the temple is about 20,000 guests/day on the Tet holiday. That number is about thousands of guests/day on the examination season. And it’s about hundreds of guests/normal day on average.
A Small Note When Visiting the Temple of Literature Hanoi
Temple of Literature Quoc Tu Giam is an extremely important relic. It contains many historical and cultural values, so you should pay attention to when visiting here:
- Respect and protect the monuments. No acts of harm to antiques, landscapes, etc. For instance, rubbing the head of a turtle, writing graffiti on the monument wall, sitting on the epitaphs, etc.
- Costumes need to fit, neat, and clean because this is a place with many cultural meanings. In the temple are, please have no hat or smoking.
- Be conscious of environmental protection, do not litter indiscriminately, step on the grass, break the branches, fishing.
- Perform a worshiping ceremony according to the regulations of the management board. There are no indecent acts, profanity, and security disorder. Do not take advantage of beliefs, worship to superstitious activities, fraud.
- You have to get the permission of the management in order to film the Temple of Literature Hanoi.
Despite the events of the time, the Temple of Literature Hanoi will always be a symbol of education as well as the quintessence of Vietnamese national culture. Hopefully, the above information will be useful for you when traveling to Hanoi and visiting the relic.
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