Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), a Temple of Confucius in Hanoi, is one of the first stopover for most of travelers to Hanoi. Visit this historical and cultural relic to discover the first university of Vietnam as well as  to reveal the Hanoians’ spirit of study in the past.

Founded as a Confucian temple in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong, to commemorate Confucius, sages and scholars, and at the same time to function as a royal school whose first pupil was Prince Ly Can Duc, son of King Ly Thanh Tong. In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong set up Quoc Tu Giam at the Temple of Literature as a school dedicated to the king’s son and the great nobles of the court. In 1253, King Tran Thai Tong changed Quoc Tu Giam to Quoc Hoc Vien (the National Academies), extending and acquiring the children of ordinary civilians with excellent academic achievements. During the reign of King Tran Minh Tong (1314 – 1329), teacher Chu Van An was appointed the headmaster (rector) and taught directly to the princes. In 1370, after his death, King Tran Nghe Tong worshiped at the Temple of Literature beside Confucius.

Temple of Literature

The entire of the Literature Temple is surrounded by a brick walls – the most common architectural materials of the period, creating an ancient space. Inside the wall, the ancient architectural roofs hidden under the luxuriant foliage of the ancient trees make this place a completely different scene with the outside.

In front of Temple of Literature (across the Quoc Tu Giam street now), there is a large lake, called Văn Lake (Lake of Literature), was once the place for Confucian poetry. Now there’s still a stelae built in 1865 records the renovation of the Temple of Literature. The interior of Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam is divided into 5 areas, separated by the ancient brick walls. The first two courtyards are quiet areas with ancient trees and trimmed lawns, where scholars would relax away from the bustle of the outside world.

entrance gate to Temple of literature

The gate opens onto three pathways which continues through the complex. The center path was reserved for the monarch and above the center path there is a big bronze bell, The path to the left is for the administrative Mandarins and the path to the right is for military Mandarins.

Main Gate - Temple of Literature

The bell located above the main gate was used to signify that an important person was coming through and was added to the Văn Miếu in the 19th century. The bell was made out of Bronze and could only be touched by monks. On the bell several patterns can be found including an outline of a phoenix, which represents beauty, and a dragon, which represents power. Both of these symbols are used to represent the Emperor and Queen. A bell can be found in all of the pagodas in Vietnam.

Khue Van Pavilion - Khue Van Cac

Khue Van pavilion (Khuê Văn Các), a unique architectural work built in 1805 and a symbol of present-day Hanoi. The Khue Van pavilion is built on four white-washed stone stilts. At the top is a red-coloured with two circular windows and an elaborate roof. Inside, a bronze bell hangs from the ceiling to be rung on auspicious occasions. Beside the Khue Van pavilion are the Suc Van gate (Súc Văn Môn) and the Bi Van gate (Bi Văn Môn). These two gates are dedicated to the beauty of literature, both its content and its form.

Stelae of Doctors

In 1484, the Emperor Lê Thánh Tông erected 116 steles of carved blue stone turtles with elaborate motifs to honour talent and encourage study. The Turtle is one of the nation’s four holy creatures – the others are the Dragon (Long), the Unicorn (Ly) and the Phoenix (Phượng). The turtle is a symbol of longevity and wisdom. The shape and size of the turtle changed with the passage of time.

Stelae at Temple of Literature
Turtle Steles with the names of those successful at the royal exams.

The doctors’ steles are a valuable historical resource for the study of culture, education and sculpture in Vietnam. 82 stelae remain. They depict the names and birth places of 1307 graduates of 82 triennial royal exams. Between 1442 and 1779, eighty-one exams were held by the Lê dynasty and one was held by the Mạc dynasty. The ancient Chinese engravings on each stele praise the merits of the monarch and cite the reason for holding royal exams. They also record the mandarins who were tasked with organizing the exams.

The fifth area of the Temple of Literature is the Royal school, formerly the Quoc Tu Giam, where talents were trained. Over time with the historical events, the old building was destroyed. In 1999, the school was rebuilt with architectural scale and harmony with the scenery of the front Van Mieu.

Good to know

The entrance fee for the Temple of Literature complex is 30,000 VND (about $1.5).
Opening hours: 7:30 to 18:00 every day.