Delving into Vietnam’s Intellectual Heart: The Temple of Literature

Delving into Vietnam’s Intellectual Heart: The Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam, stands as a monumental homage to the country’s scholastic and philosophical traditions. This site is Vietnam’s oldest university and is a symbol of the country’s commitment to knowledge, education, and Confucian values.

In this article, we will embark on an exhaustive exploration of the Temple of Literature, examining its historical background, reasons to visit, its geographical location and travel routes, the best times to visit, and unforgettable attractions.

Historical Significance of the Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature, also known as Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam, was first established in 1070 under the reign of Emperor Ly Thanh Tong. It was originally constructed as a temple dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars. However, in 1076, it expanded its operations to include Quoc Tu Giam, which functioned as Vietnam’s first university or imperial academy.

Quoc Tu Giam served as the hub of higher education for the country’s elite, nurturing generations of scholars and bureaucrats for over 700 years. It was here that the sons of the nobility, along with gifted “commoners,” were educated in the principles of Confucian thought, literature, and philosophy. The university ceased its educational functions in 1779, but its symbolic relevance as the embodiment of Vietnam’s academic spirit has endured.

Why Visit the Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature represents a significant part of Vietnam’s intellectual heritage and is a fascinating site to explore. It offers a window into the country’s academic and philosophical history, with many structures and relics showcasing Vietnam’s traditional architecture and art.

The tranquil ambience of the temple complex provides a quiet retreat from the bustling city outside, making it a peaceful place to walk and contemplate. The Temple of Literature is also famous for its 82 stone steles, mounted on stone turtles, which list the names, birthplaces, and achievements of men who received doctorates in triennial royal exams. These steles were recognized by UNESCO as a Memory of the World.

Visiting the Temple of Literature is not just a cultural and historical journey, but it also offers an opportunity to understand the deep-seated respect for knowledge and learning within Vietnamese society.

Location and Route

The Temple of Literature is conveniently located in the city center of Hanoi, making it easily accessible to visitors. It is situated to the west of the Hanoi Old Quarter and south of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, about two kilometers from Hoan Kiem Lake.

Getting to the temple is quite straightforward. Visitors can choose to walk, bike, take a taxi, or ride a cyclo from their location in Hanoi. Public buses are also available. The most commonly used routes are bus number 2, 38, and 50.

When to Visit

The Temple of Literature is open all year round but the best time to visit depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. If you want to enjoy a quieter visit, it is best to come early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The temple is often less crowded on weekdays.

From a weather perspective, Hanoi has a humid subtropical climate, with a cool, dry winter from November to April, and a hot, humid summer from May to October. The most pleasant time to visit the temple would be during the dry season when the weather is more comfortable.

What to See

The Temple of Literature spans five separate courtyards and features several pavilions, halls, statues, and a pond known as the “Well of Heavenly Clarity.” The complex’s entrance is marked by the impressive Van Mieu Gate and a succession of five courtyards, each with its distinct character and significance.

As you navigate the temple, you’ll encounter the Lake of Literature, the serene central courtyard surrounded by lush greenery, and the Thien Quang Well. One of the site’s significant attractions is the third courtyard’s Thien Quang Well and the Stelae of Doctors. The latter features 82 tombstone-like slabs where the names of successful candidates from royal examinations are etched.

Another notable sight is the ceremonial fourth courtyard, containing the Dai Thanh sanctuary, where Confucius and his four closest disciples are worshiped. Lastly, the fifth courtyard houses the Quoc Tu Giam, displaying various artifacts and exhibits from the site’s time as an imperial academy.

In summary, a visit to the Temple of Literature offers an enriching journey through Vietnam’s intellectual history, with the chance to appreciate the nation’s traditional architecture and value for education. It serves as a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of Hanoi, allowing a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture and heritage.