The temple of literature (Văn Miếu) is not what you expect it to be – it’s not a religious site. In fact, it is a Confucian memorial place dedicated to the centuries of education and literature in Vietnam.
The temple was founded in 1070 by King Ly Thánh Tông and was built to pay tribute to Confucius, his scholars and people with high academic achievement. In 1076, it became the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first university. It was initially opened to educate the aristocrats, nobles and royal family members. In the later years, the school was opened to talented commoners. Functioned within 1076 to 1779, Văn Miếu was the only place where mandarin class was taught. Through its history, over two thousand doctors have graduated from the university.
There are five courtyards that lead from the main gate with the two stone dragons to the final courtyard with the Temple of Literature.
As you enter, you see three pathways. The centre path was reserved for the monarch, the one to its left for the administrative Mandarins and the one to its right for military Mandarins.
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. It is very quiet and peaceful, a nice place to relax in this hectic city.
The third courtyard features a square lake, the Well of Heaven’s Clarity. On both sides of the lake are pavilions with stelae, each sits upon stone tortoises and holding inscriptions of names, birth places and achievements of doctorate recipients from periods 1442 to 1780, when the Vietnam capital was moved to Hue. Today, 82 stelae are left – about 34 additional ones have been lost over the years.
The fourth courtyard houses the Great House of Ceremonies, where a large red lacquered statue of Confucius stands.
To reach the fifth and final courtyard, you have to walk around the temple in the fourth court yard. This is a little trick, I know that some people have missed this. Anyway, to reach the fifth and final courtyard you have to step through a gate is protected by this stone guard…
… I had met him back in 2007, and believe it or not, he is still standing strong!
The Temple of Literature also retained its original features.
Just before the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tết, calligraphists will assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán characters. We didn’t see the calligraphists this time, but here are some pictures from our 2007 visit, which happened to coincide with the New Year: