Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is easily one of the most charming attractions in Hanoi. It’s made up of a series of courtyards, pavilions, ponds, and gardens, which together symbolized higher learning in ancient Vietnam. A thick brick wall shields this former haven of knowledge from the distractions of the streets. First built in 1070 and reconstructed several times, the grounds are said to be modeled on a temple from Confucius’ hometown.
Known locally as “Van Mieu,” this temple was the site of Vietnam’s Imperial Academy from 1076 to 1779. During those years, it provided education in Confucian principles, poetry, and literature to royals and elite Vietnamese scholars. The instruction and exams were held on the grounds, and the trimmed gardens and tranquil ponds provided scholars with a place to rest their minds between lessons.
Three pathways lead from the entrance through the first courtyard — one for the monarch, one for mandarins, and one for the military. A large bronze bell, carved with symbols of the dragon and the phoenix, was used to announced the arrival of VIPs at the academy. The ‘Stelae of Doctors’ – of which 82 survive – are carried on the back of giant carved turtles and list the names of the graduates of the royal exams.
The temple and its pavilions can get a bit busy, but there are always quiet, shaded corners in the garden where one can sit and contemplate life in Vietnam’s oldest university.