Located about 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature is the first national university in Vietnam. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the temple was first devoted to Confucius (Khong Tu) and honors Vietnam’s finest intellectuals and men of literary accomplishment. At this time, entrance was only granted to those of royal class, but after 1442 a more egalitarian approach was adopted and talented individuals from all over the country headed to Hanoi to learn the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry.
Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Located in an over 54000m2 plot, the temple is divided into five court yard, each has its own features and history. The first courtyard stretches from the main gate to Dai Trung gate; the second stands out with Khue Van Cac pavilion, which is designated as an emblem of the city. You will find doctors’ names listed on a tombstone above tortoise backs in the third courtyard. There are a total of 82 tombstones, with names and origins of 1307 doctors, matching 82 examination courses from 1442 to 1779. When it comes to exam season or New Year, many Vietnamese students come here and rub the tortoise head. It is believed that such action brings luckiness to their studies.
The fourth courtyard is bordered on either side by great pavilions which once contained altars of 72 of Confucius’ greatest students. However, nowadays, these pavilions have been replaced by offices, a gift shop and a small museum which displays inkwells, pens, books and personal artifacts belonging to some of the students that have studied here through the years. At the far end of the courtyard is the altar with statues of Confucius and his four closest disciples.
Although Temple of Literature has gone through lots of restoration work, the temple still retains its very first original shape. This is definitely a place that you should spend time to explore and enjoy its tranquility.