Visit the first university in Vietnam – Temple of Literature (Hanoi)

Visit the first university in Vietnam – Temple of Literature (Hanoi)

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.

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 teaches for the Crown Prince. In 1076, the Imperial Academy (Quốc Tử Giám) which is considered 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, Emperor Tran Thai Tong expanded the Imperial Academy to acquire gifted students around the country.

From the 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 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 a  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 a 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 the Dai Trung Gate (the great middle gate), therefore, it is usually called the 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 for Vietnamese students who have to overcome much hardship to gain 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 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 that 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  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

Temple of Literature, Hanoi - Everything you need to know 2021

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 that 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

Temple Of Literature - What to do when staying in Hanoi
Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

1. Fine Arts Museum – The great place for art lovers.

On the opposite side of the Temple of Literature, Fine Art Museum is one of the largest museums in Vietnam with a 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 the 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.

  • 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.

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 in the afternoon you will see the  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 the Vietnam Military History Museum or Army Museum – houses an extensive collection of different kinds of weapon that was used during the Vietnam wars. Set up in 1956, it is one of the oldest museums in Hanoi. Today, it covers the area of 12.800 mwith 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 aircraft, 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 the country of Vietnamese people or maybe, you want to struggle for peace and put an end to the war in the world, the Vietnam Military History Museum is a great choice for you.

  • 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

Fee for filming and photo shooting

  • Photo shooting: US$1.3/camera
  • Filming under 1 hour: US$13/camera
  • Filming from 1 to 2 hours: US$17.5/camera
  • Filming from 2 to 3 hours: US$21.8/camera

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,  eight side 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 is 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 independence and freedom of Vietnam.


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