temple of literature in hanoi
Source: Long lee

I -  The Temple of Literature introduction 

Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam - Temple of Literature, about 10 minutes away from Hoan Kiem lake, is the leading relic complex of Hanoi. Nowadays, it is on the list of 23 special national monuments by the Prime Minister of Vietnam and becomes one of the first stopovers for most travelers to Hanoi. This relic is a place of study also known as The Imperial Academy rather than a religious landmark. As a result, travelers can reveal the Hanoians’ spirit of study in the past while exploring Vietnam’s first university. 

temple of literature in 1970

Source: Ashui
This place was founded as a Confucian temple in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong, to worship Confucius as well as his four famous students, and at the same time to serve as a royal school for the first pupil - Prince Ly Can Duc. In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong set up Quoc Tu Giam inside the temple's campus, which can be considered Vietnam’s first university, dedicated to the king’s son and the great nobles of the court. Afterward,  Quoc Tu Giam was changed into Quoc Hoc Vien (the National Academies) in 1253, extending and acquiring the children of ordinary civilians with excellent academic achievements (passing 3 entrance exams). Over the next six centuries and more, the university had produced thousands of excellent scholars serving the King and the country. 
During the reign of King Tran Minh Tong (1314 – 1329), Chu Van An, considered as the greatest teacher at that time, was appointed the school’s principal (rector) and taught directly to the princes. After his death in 1370, King Tran Nghe Tong (1321 – 1394) worshiped him beside Confucius in the Hanoi temple of literature. The organization of teaching and learning at the National Academies developed and completed under Le Dynasty (6th century). It used to be headed by a rector ("Te tuu") and a vice-rector ("Tu nghiep"). The National Academies' professors held different titles such as "Giao thu", "Truc giang", "Tro giao" and "Bac si". Furthermore, the learning period varied from 3 years to 7 years.
Nevertheless, the Imperial academy in Hanoi was destroyed by the French bombing in 1946 and had been restored several times later on. Especially in 1999, the Hanoi administration built two wooden structures in the temple's campus. One structure is used for worshiping Confucian and his students. The other one is for worshipping Chu Van An and displaying items of the ancient temple which contain the country’s traditional values of education holding seminars.

teacher chu van an statue in temple of literature

Source: Wikipedia
In short, The 5,400 square meter historical heritage site was built to encourage the study spirit of all people in the country as well as to find out the talented people to work for the country. Travelers would learn a lot of interesting stories about Vietnamese culture, history, and spirit from this place once they pay a visit.

II - Architecture of The Temple of Literature in Vietnam

This place is known widely as one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions. Visiting the temple travelers will have a chance to discover historic architecture from the Ly and Tran dynasties, the revered place that has witnessed thousands of doctors’ graduate, now become Vietnam's memorial to education and literature. Several traditional-style Vietnamese architecture features were preserved in there such as ironwood pillars and walls, terracotta tiles, curved shoes shape roof tiles according to the art style of Le Nguyen dynasty, many ancient trees (hundreds of years old trees) or even pavilions, courtyards and passageways that were once used by royalty. 

architecture of temple of literature

Source: VnExpress
Generally, the structure complex of the Temple of Literature consists of five areas equivalent to five elements. The first courtyard from the Main Gate to The Great Middle Gate (Dai Trung gate) while the second courtyard is from the Great Middle Gate to the Constellation of Literature pavilion. The third area is a place to store doctoral headstones built from 1484 and highlighted by Thien Quang well. The fourth courtyard is the center of the Temple containing the main architecture used to worship Confucius, and 72 plaques of outstanding graduate students. Finally, the courtyard included the Imperial Academy which is the ancient Temple, considered as Viet Nam’s first national university.

1 - The first courtyard 

“Đại Trung Môn” (The great middle gate)

great middle gate of the temple of literature
Source: VnExpress
The Main Gate “Van Mieu Mon” was built in Vietnamese typical style. On the top of the gate, there's a bell used to signify that an important person was coming through in the old time. The bell was made with bronze and could only be touched by monks. On the bell several patterns can be found such as a phoenix representing beauty, and a dragon representing power. In Vietnamese culture, these symbols are used to represent the Emperor and Queen.
After passing the main gate of the Temple of Literature, travelers will get to the Great Middle Gate “Dai Trung Mon”.  The name “Đại Trung Môn” (The great middle gate) is a combination of two great Confucianism books which are “Đại Học” (Great learning) and “Trung Dung” ( The Doctrine of the Mean). On the right and the left side of Dai Trung Gate, there are two smaller gates named Dai Tai (Attained Talent) and Thanh Duc (Accomplished Virtue) expressing the aim of training and educating. Due to the ancient Orient concept, the left side is more important than the right (Confucius point of view); therefore this structure implies that virtue is more important than talent. 
Another distinguishing feature of Dai Trung Gate that needs to be mentioned is the carp symbol on the top of the gate originated from an old Chinese legend: "Once upon a time, the God organised a competition requiring contestants to swim upstream against the river's strong current. Several fish attended this competition, but only a few are capable of the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp successfully makes the jump, it can transform into a powerful dragon." The carp in the gate is a metaphor for Vietnamese students who have to overcome a lot of challenges such as passing the Regional exam (Hương examination), National exam (Hội examination) and Royal exam (Đình examination) to become government officials. If you continue to go inside, you will find out that the carp symbol is replaced by dragon symbols showing student’s promotion in social rank.

2 - The second courtyard of the Temple of Literature

second courtyard of temple of literature

Source: Wikipedia
It is called as “Khuê Văn Các” (Constellation of Literature Pavilion) 
Located in the Second Courtyard is Khue Van Pavilion (Constellation of Literature Pavilion) which was built in 1805 on four white-washed stone stilts. Its size is not big but its architecture is unique and harmonious. At the top is a red-color with two circular windows, and an elaborate roof which is the combination of the circle and the square. In Vietnamese culture, the circle represents the sky and the square represents the earth whose combination is the symbol of the yin and yang harmony. Moreover, the name - Khue Van is given from the brightest star in the sky, carries the wish for development and prosperity for education and culture of Vietnam. 
In the past, the constellation of Literature Pavilion was the place where the king and his officials gathered to discuss and analyze the essays of prominent students passing the national examination. Nowadays, it is recognized as the symbol of Hanoi – Vietnam’s capital.

3 - The third courtyard

Thien Quang well and Doctor Stelae

doctor stelae in temple of literature

Source: Vanmieu.gov
The third courtyard - The distinctive feature of the Temple of Literature.
If you pass the Khue Van Pavilion, you can immediately reach the Thien Quang Well (Well of Heavenly Clarity). This well is one of the key factors that keep the atmosphere of the temple tranquil and help purify people’s minds. Furthermore, it functioned as a mirror for people to arrange their dress before entering the most sacred part of the complex. In terms of its name, Thien Quang means the light from the sky implying the hope that students would receive the elite from the sky then develop their knowledge, virtue; and devote themselves to the country. 
However, the treasure that stands out in this courtyard is the existence of 82 Stelae of Doctors divided into 2 rows along two sides of Thien Quang Well. In 1484, the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông erected 116 steles with elaborate motifs to honor the talented and encourage study. All steles were put on the back of turtles and carved the name of doctors who passed the imperial examinations. The Turtle in Van Mieu, one of the nation’s four holy creatures,  is a symbol of longevity and wisdom so the names of successful students would last forever. 
Originally, there were 91 doctorate steles. However, only 82 of them are left until now due to wars and natural disasters. They were officially recognized in a list of world's documentary heritage by UNESCO on March 9, 2010. Since then, the temple has been more and more famous with international travelers because of its historic and cultural values. 

4 - The fourth courtyard

“Đại Thành Môn” (The gate to great success), and “Đại Bái Đường” (House of Ceremony)

great succes gate of temple of literature

Source: Baocat Design
You can enter the fourth courtyard, the center and the main architecture of the Temple of Literature, through Dai Thanh Gate (The gate to great success). This gate opened to the main halls where the students studied and listened to their teachers. It's the place where the students put all their dreams and hopes, the name 'The gate to great success' fully describing their ambition.
In the center is Dai Bai Duong (House of Ceremony) where Emperors and Fellows made their offerings to Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi, and Mencius. Especially, new doctors who passed the imperial examination would come there to kneel and bow to show their respect. Also, there is an exhibition displaying inkwell, pens, books, and personal artifacts of some students that studied at the temple.

5 - The fifth courtyard in the Temple of Literature

imperial academy of temple of literature

Source: Baocat Design
In Vietnamese it is called as  “Nhà Thái Học” (The Imperial Academy)
In 1076, the Imperial Academy was constructed under Emperor Ly Nhan Tong reign and expanded through dynasties. Despite its original purpose was teaching princes and nobles only, it became the first university in Vietnam where a lot of talented students studied afterward. However, it was destroyed by the French in 1946 and reconstructed as a temple in 2000. 
The ground floor is dedicated to Chu Van An (a prestigious teacher who had significant contributions to Vietnamese education) and displays Confucian education in Vietnam. The second floor is dedicated to three Kings who had huge influence on the development of the temple and the academy (Ly Thanh Tong founded the temple, Ly Nhan Tong built the Imperial Academy, and Le Thanh Tong erected the turtle stone stelaes).
Today, the Imperial Academy has become an important tourist destination of Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general. With a long history, it honors the talents, the national traditions and the culture and education of Vietnam.

III - Hanoi Temple of Literature travel guide

Van Mieu is only 2.1 km away from Hoan Kiem Lake. Therefore, travelers can get there by several means of transportation:

By taxi: 6 minutes/ 35.000VND

By bus: 15 minutes/ 7000VND (Nearest bus stop: 4B Tràng Thi)
On foot: 25 minutes

1 - Opening hours

Opening days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday
Opening times:
In summer ( From April to October) : 07:30-17:30
In winter (From October to April): 08:00-17:00

2 - Entrance fee

Adult: 30,000 VND (~US$ 1.3) for Vietnamese and foreigners
Students: 15,000 VND (~US$ 0.7) (ID, students card required)
Children under 15: Free

3 - Good to know

This attraction is a formal historical site and sacred symbol of Vietnam so you should follow the rule when you enter this heritage:
- Carry out the civilized lifestyle when being in the place: do not smoke, protect the environment of the place (Throw the trash in the right place), respect the relic and obey the regulations.
- Do not make videos and take photos without permission.
- Dress code when visiting Temple of Literature: Get dressed politely. In particular, no hat, shorts, mini skirt or tank-top. 
- In addition, the management staff provide the presenting audio guide equipment that is really helpful with many foreign languages such as French and English to support the best for the foreigner visitors.

4 - What to eat around the Temple

food near temple of literature

Siurce: Tripadvisor

When visiting the Temple, you can walk around and have a food tour at some restaurants highly recommended below: 
Thich An Pho Restaurant
- Address: 67 Quoc Tu Giam Street, Hanoi Vietnam
- Price range: $1- $3
- Cuisines: Vietnamese
- Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Van Mieu Deli
- Address: 39 & 41 Van Mieu Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam
- Cuisines: Vietnamese, Asian
- Special diets: Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options
- Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, Drinks

5 - Where to visit around the Temple of Literature?

Fine Arts Museum - The great place for art lovers.

tourist places near temple of literature

Source: VnExpress
Located in No. 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, just 5 minutes away from Van Mieu the Fine Art Museum with a total area of nearly 5000 m2 is known as one of the largest museums in Vietnam. Originally built in the 1930s as a Girls School for French high-ranked officers in Indochina, then officially became the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in 1966. This important national museum preserves a number of Vietnamese artistic essences ranging from modern post-war paintings, ceramics, and lacquers, to ancient works of prehistoric and feudalism. 
- Address: No. 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Dien Ban Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
- Opening hours: Every day except for Monday, 08:30-17:00
- Entrance fee: VND 40,000 for adults and VND 20,000 for children.

Lenin Park - Perfect place to relax and experience daily life of the local

lenin park attraction near temple of literature

Source: Vntrip
Just across the road from the Temple of Literature, you can easily reach the one of the oldest parks in Hanoi - Lenin Park. This place is not a historically significant attraction in Hanoi, however, it might be a good choice if travelers want to take a short break after visiting this place and relax far from Hanoi’s bustling motor-bike traffic. Moreover, travelers can enjoy the living pace of the locals, watch them skateboard, roller skate, cycle bicycles, exercise or play soccer almost every day, especially in the afternoon.
- Address: 28A Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam Military History Museum

military history museum near temple of literature

Source: Vntrip
On the opposite side of the Lenin Park is the Vietnam Military History Museum Hanoi, also known as the Army Museum. Erected in 1956, it is one of the oldest museums in Hanoi covering the area of 12.800 m2 with the complex of different buildings.
Its exhibition artifacts are displayed due to the flow of Vietnamese history starting from the initiating point of Vietnam - Hung Vuong Era, followed by the period of being invaded by Chinese lasting for over one thousand years, as well as struggling time against the French colony during the period from 19th to the early 20th century. Its topic revolves around the tradition of Vietnamese as being courageous and insistent in protecting national integrity and independence.
- Address: No. 28A Dien Bien Phu Street, Dien Ban Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
- Opening hours: 08:00 -16:30 every day except for Monday and Friday
- Entrance fee: International visitors: US$1.8/person
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi stands for a symbol of the capital where tourists can visit and have a chance to research and understand more and more about Vietnam cultural values. 
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Hi, my name is Quan, and you can call me “Kun”. Having a big passion for travel, I spent 6 months traveling to most of the regions & provinces in Vietnam. I find Vietnam's landscapes are so beautiful, Vietnamese people are so friendly.

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