Temple of Literature is one of the top historical attractions in Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam. It was built about 1000 years ago to be dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars and is also considered as the first university in Vietnam. The temple represents Vietnamese ancient architecture and traditional fondness for learning.
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I. HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, HANOI, VIETNAM
The temple was built in 1070 at the time of Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and was reconstructed during the Tran Dynasty (1225–1400) and in the subsequent dynasties. At first, this temple is the place dedicated to Confucius and teach for the Crown Price. In 1076, the Imperial Academy (Quốc Tử Giám) which is considered the Vietnam’s first university was established within the temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. Then, in 1253, the Emperor Tran Thai Tong expanded the Imperial Academy to acquire the gifted students around the country.
From Le Dynasty, the Emperors had constructed Turtle steles carved the name of those who had succeeded with the loyal exams. This becomes the unique feature of Temple of Literature that you can’t see anywhere.
Through years, the temple has been damaged partly by the natural disasters and wars, therefore, from the 20th century, the Vietnam Government has restored it. Nowadays, the Temple of Literature becomes the historical relics of Hanoi.
II. ARCHITECTURAL HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, HANOI, VIETNAM
The Temple of Literature has the total area of over 54.000 m2. It is lying in four streets including Quoc Tu Giam Street in the south, Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in the north, Ton Duc Thang Street in the east, and Van Mieu Street in the west. Its architecture is the combination of imperial and Confucius style. The outside of the temple is surrounded by brick walls. The inside is divided into five walled courtyards with different architectures which represent five basic elements forming the world: Metal – Wood – Fire – Water – The Earth.
1. The first courtyard – Dai Trung Gate area
This courtyard extends from the main gate of the temple to Dai Trung Gate (the great middle gate), therefore, it is usually called Dai Trung Gate area. There are two smaller gates on the right and the left side of Dai Trung Gate including: Dai Tai (Attained Talent) and Thanh Duc (Accomplished Virtue), which implies that a successful person should have both talent and virtue.
One interesting feature of Dai Trung Gate is the carp symbol located at the top of the gate which originates from a meaningful Chinese story: “Many carps swim upstream against the river’s strong current in a contest held by God, 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.” This is a metaphor of Vietnamese students who have to overcome much hardship to gain the success in education.
2. The second courtyard – Khue Van Pavilion (The Pavilion of Constellation)
Khue Van Pavilion was built in 1805 on four white-washed stone stilts. Its size is not big but it has the unique and harmonious architecture. At the top is a red-colored with two circular windows and an elaborate roof. Inside, there is a bronze bell hanging from the ceiling to be rung on auspicious occasions. Today Constellation of Literature Pavilion has become a typical symbol of Hanoi because of its sophisticated design following Hanoi style. The name – Khue Van is given from the brightest star in the sky which is dedicated to the beauty of literature. This is the place which held the poetry competitions in the past.
3. The third courtyard – The distinctive feature of the temple
When you go through the Khue Van Pavilion, you can immediately reach to the Thien Quang Well (Well of Heavenly Clarity). This well is one of the key factors that keep the atmosphere of the temple to be fresh and tranquil. On the right and the left side of Thien Quang Well, there are 82 turtle steles divided into 2 rows. All steles were placed on the back of turtles and carved the name of doctors who passed the imperial examinations. Originally, there are 91 doctorate steles. However, due to wars and natural disasters, there are only 82 left. On March 9, 2010, UNESCO officially recognized 82 turtle steles in a list of world’s documentary heritage. Since then, there are more and more international tourists visiting the Temple of Literature because of its historic and cultural values.
Interestingly, Vietnamese people believe that these Turtle Steles stand for the wisdom, therefore, each year, before the national university entrance exam, a lot of students come here and touch the head of these turtles to get luck and wish to pass the exam. This action has made a lot of damages to the turtle steles so today, it is prohibited.
4. The fourth courtyard – Ceremony area
You can enter the fourth courtyard through Dai Thanh Gate (The gate to great success). In the center is Dai Bai Duong (House of Ceremony). This was a place for Emperors and Fellows to make their offerings to Confucius. New doctors who passed the imperial examination would come to House of Ceremony to kneel and bow to show their respect.
The next building is the Thuong Dien where worshipped Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi and Mencius. Also, there is a small museum displaying inkwells, pens, books and personal artifacts belonging to some of the students that studied at the temple. Originally, each side of the fourth courtyard was to keep altar Confucius and Chu Van An (a master of the Imperial Academy), yet they have now been converted into souvenir shops and drinks stalls.
5. The fifth courtyard – The Imperial Academy
In 1076, Emperor Ly Nhan Tong ordered the construction of an Imperial Academy and it was expanded through dynasties. From the original purpose to teach princes and nobles, it became the first university in Vietnam where a lot of talented students studied. With its long history, the Imperial Academy honors the talents, the national traditions and the culture and education of Vietnam.
Today, it is reconstructed with several buildings which are based on the traditional architecture in harmony with the surrounding sights of the temple. Traditional ceremonies are organised in the front building on special occasions. The rear building is divided into two levels including the ground floor and the upper floor. The ground floor that has a statue of Chu Van An (a prestigious master who had significant contributions on Vietnam education) and shows exhibits of the temple and the academy with a display on Confucian education in Vietnam, the upper floor is the place to worship the three monarchs who contributed most to the foundation of the temple and the academy (Ly Thanh Tong the founder of the temple in 1070, Ly Nhan Tong founded the Imperial Academy, and Le Thanh Tong ordered the erection of the turtle stone stelae of doctor laureates in 1484).
III. WHERE TO VISIT AROUND TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, HANOI, VIETNAM?
1. Fine Arts Museum – The great place for the art lovers
On the opposite side of the Temple of Literature, Fine Art Museum is one of the largest museums in Vietnam with the total area of nearly 5000 m2. In the 1930s, this museum was built as a Girl School for Indochina high-ranked officers. Then, in 1966, it officially became Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. When you come to the museum, you can see a lot of Vietnamese artistic essences like paintings, ceramics and lacquers created by modern post-war artists and many works date back as far as pre-historic and feudalism time. Besides the exhibition galleries, there are areas for children’s creativity, a center for art conservation and a library inside the museum’s campus. The Museum often organizes temporary exhibitions and special activities for school children and families. You can check the information about these events through its official website (Click here to access the website). Also, the museum offers the tour guides in English and French at the reception desk and you have to pay fees for this service.
2. Lenin Park – A place to experience the local daily life
Just about 650 meters from the Temple of Literature, you can reach the Lenin Park. In the past, it was called Chi Lang Garden (Chi Lang is the name of a type of flower), from 2003, its name had changed into Lenin Park. This place is not the historically significant attraction in Hanoi, however, if you want to take a short break after visiting the Temple of Literature and watching the local people, this park might be a great choice. Almost every day, especially the afternoon you will see a lively and daily life of young and older people. They come here to drive skateboards, roller skates, bicycles or do exercises or play soccer. Park is freely accessible to everyone.
3. Vietnam Military History Museum – One of the oldest museum in Hanoi
On the opposite side of the Lenin Park is Vietnam Military History Museum or Army Museum – houses an extensive collection of different kinds of weapon that was used during Vietnam wars. Set up in 1956, it is one of the oldest museums in Hanoi. Today, it covers the area of 12.800 m2 with the complex of different buildings. There are both indoors and outdoors sections with displays of military-related artifacts. Its exhibition artifacts with the long history from Hung Vuong Era, which is considered as the start of Vietnam as a country, the period of over thousand years of being colonized by Chinese is also elaborately arranged and depicted, as well as the process of struggling against French colony in the 19th and 20th century.
The highlight of the museum is outdoor exhibition of military aircrafts, tanks and other kinds of weapon like a Soviet-built MiG-21 jet fighter, triumphant amid the wreckage of French aircraft downed at Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and the military tank that had plowed through the gates of Sai gon’s Presidential Palace, which was the milestone of ending the Vietnam War in 1975. If you are interested in, the history of protecting country of Vietnamese people or maybe, you want to struggle for the peace and put an end to the war in the world, the Vietnam Military History Museum is a great choice for you.
4. The Flag Tower of Hanoi – A significant historical relic of Hanoi
Next to the Vietnam Military History Museum is the Flag Tower which is considered as the symbol of Hanoi. The tower was built in 1812 under the Nguyen Dynasty as an observation post of the Hanoi. Unlike many most of other historical relics in Hanoi, the flag tower was not damaged during the war with French and was continuously used as a military post in the next period of the war. Therefore, this is a rare architecture in Hanoi that could remain completely its original design.
Hanoi Flag Tower is 41 meters high and three-tier basements, eightside room and the flagpole. Interestingly, the second tier has 4 doors facing four directions.: Except the North one, the other three sides are inscribed with two characters relevant to its direction: East door – Nghenh Huc (To welcome dawn’s sunlight), South door – Huong Minh (Directed to the sunlight), West door – Hoi Quang (To reflect light). There are an eight-side room in the top of the tower with eight windows corresponding to eight directions, which offers enough space for six soldiers standing inside to observe. Thus, in the Vietnam war, this was a significant army base. Today, the red flag with yellow star always flies in the sky of Hanoi as a symbol of glory and pride of an independence and freedom of Vietnam.
IV. WHAT TO EAT AROUND TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, HANOI, VIETNAM?
1. A variety of street food around Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tasting street food is always an indispensable activity of tourists visiting Hanoi. Around the Temple of Literature, there are some dishes that you should put them on your must-try list.
a. Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes (Banh Xeo)
Location: No. 29 Ton Duc Thang Street, Quoc Tu Giam Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam (about 800 meters from the temple)
Opening hours: 16:00 – 22:00
Price: VND 20,000 – VND 40,000
Tel: (+84) 243 7323 409
b. Rolled Rice Pancake (Banh Cuon)
Location: No. 16 Nguyen Nhu Do Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi (400 meters from the temple)
Opening hours: 07:00 – 22:00
Price: VND 20,000 – VND 30,000
c. Rice noodle soup (Pho)
Location: No. 39 Ton Duc Thang Street, Quoc Tu Giam Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam (about 700 meters from the temple)
Opening hours: 06:00 – 23:00
Price: VND 30,000 – VND 110,000
2. Good restaurants near Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Located in the central part of Hanoi, the area around Temple of Literature has various restaurants with different styles and a wide range of price. We will recommend some restaurants having good feedbacks from tourists.
Toko Restaurant – World-class restaurant with the meaningful social mission
Highlight: diversity of food styles from Western to Asian dishes, professional and friendly staff, modern environment, social responsibility (besides business activities, Toko also holds holistic hospitality training program for disadvantaged and at-risk youth in Vietnam).
Location: No. 59 Van Mieu Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening hours: 06:30 – 22:00
Price: VND 60,000 – VND 132,000
Tel: (+84) 243 7470 337
Le Hanoi Gourmet – Vietnamese special food and fusion ones in a clean and English speaking environment
Highlight: good reviews from tourists, specialization in serving Vietnamese dishes, having a special menu for vegetarian and dietician.
Location: No. 51 Quoc Tu Giam Street, Quoc Tu Giam Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening hours: 10:30 – 15:00 and 17:00 – 20:00
Price: VND 90,000 – VND 300,000
Tel: (+84) 243 7153 004
Salmonid Restaurant – An elegant environment near Temple of Literature
Highlight: good reviews from tourists, cozy European family-owned restaurant, live music on Sunday.
Location: No. 32C Cao Ba Quat Street, Dien Bien Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening hours: 10:00 – 23:00
Price: VND 180,000 – VND 500,000
Tel: (+84) 243 2000 628
3. Unique cafe around Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hien Tra Truong Xuan – A traditional teahouse in Hanoi
Highlight: ancient arcitecture, holding the cultural value of Vietnamese Tea, elegant and quiet atmosphere, a place for tea lovers and those interested in Vietnamese tea.
Location: No. 13 Ngo Tat To Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 07:30 – 22:00
Price: VND 25,000 – VND 55,000
Tel: (+84) 913 518 973
Ca Chep – The combination of cafe and bookstore
Location: No. 115 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 08:30 – 22:00
Price: VND 20,000 – VND 100,000
Tel: (+84) 862 906 951
Cong Cafe – A place capturing the memories of the old Hanoi
Highlight: architecture inspired from Hanoi 30 years ago, quiet atmosphere, special taste of coffee.
Location: No. 61 Van Mieu Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 07:30 – 22:30
Price: VND 20,000 – VND 50,000
Tel: (+84) 911 811 166
V. WHAT TO BUY AS GIFTS WHEN TRAVELING TO TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, VIETNAM?
1. Handicrafts – Vietnamese handmade products near Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
When it comes to souvenir, handicrafts is usually the first choice of many tourists because of its unique and portable features. In Hanoi, there are a lot of traditional villages and each of them specializes in a kind of handicraft. Depending on your demand and person you want to give, you can choose the suitable handmade products.
a. Vietnamese Silk
In Hanoi, there is a famous silk village named Van Phuc with a thousand year of history. Their product is really diversity from raw fabrics to ready-to-use stuff like scarves, dresses, ties, cosmetic bags. The ties make the great gifts for the males while the scarves, cosmetic bags are something the females will love.
b. Conical hat
The Vietnamese traditional hat which is not only the kind of hat to protect the wearer but also dedicated to the beauty of women. Therefore, conical hat is a wonderful gift for your mother and wife. You can buy the mini size of hat to be easy to carry.
c. Bamboo souvenirs
Products made from bamboo – a plant which is popular in Vietnam. There are many types: instruments, bamboo animals, puppets,… with many shapes and colors so it is suitable for your friends as a decoration and children as a toy.
You can buy handicrafts almost souvenir shops in Hanoi. Here are some place that is near the Temple of Literature:
Souvenir stalls inside Temple of Literature
Location: in the left and right side of the fourth courtyard
Open hours: in summer 07:30 – 17:30 and in winter 08:00 – 17:00
Price: from VND 20,000
Highlight:a variety of products, friendly staff, reasonable price.
Location: No. 43-51 Van Mieu Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 08:00 – 22:00 Price: from VND 20,000
Tel: (+84) 243 7336 101
2. Paintings about Hanoi
The paintings from Vietnamese artists which describe the beauty of Hanoi, the daily activities of local people,… would be the great idea for a gift, especially if the person who receives is interested in art. Moreover, Nguyen Thai Hoc street beside Temple of Literature is well-known for canvas.
Following are some art galleries we recommend for you.
Bui Mai Hien Gallery
Location: No. 99 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 08:00 – 19:00
Tel: (+84) 913 525 129
Nguyen Art Gallery
Location: No. 31A Van Mieu Street, Van Mieu Ward, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Open hours: 09:00 – 19:00
Tel: (+84) 243 7476 001
We hope that from this article, you can know more about the Temple of Literature and will prepare better for your trip.