Hanoi Temple of Literature

Last updated - January 27, 2024
Hanoi Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature, also known as the Temple of Culture, is a revered site dedicated to Confucius located in Hanoi. It is home to the Imperial Academy, which was Vietnam's first national university, established during the reign of Emperor Ly Thanh Tong in 1070. As one of several temples in Vietnam dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars, the Temple of Literature is a significant cultural landmark in the country.

Today, the Temple of Literature remains a symbol of Vietnamese cultural and educational excellence, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to admire its stunning architecture, learn about its history, and pay homage to the country's esteemed scholars and intellectuals.

How to go to Hanoi Temple of Literature ?

The Hanoi temple of Literature is located at 58 Quoc Tu Giam Str. It is about 10 minutes by car from the city center ( Sword Lake).

To reach the Temple of Literature in Hanoi from Hoan Kiem Lake, take Le Thai To street and turn right onto Trang Thi street. Continue straight until you reach Dien Bien Phu street, then turn left onto Tran Phu street. From there, turn left onto Chu Van An street and then turn left onto Nguyen Thai Hoc street. You will see the back of the Temple of Literature, go about 50 m and right to Van Mieu Str, which will lead you to the gate of the Temple of Literature.

The way from Hoan Kiem Lake to the Temple of Literature

Another way. From The sword lake go along the Le Thai To str to Ba Trieu Str, at intersection, turn right to Hai Ba Trung Str, straight ahead till a big intersection and cross the Hanoi railway to Nguyen Khuyen street, go along to Van Mieu Str. There, you will see the Temple of Literature, turn left to the entrance gate.
Please note that the road around Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam is one-way for motorbikes. As such, visitors traveling by motorbike should take caution and follow the designated traffic flow.

History of Hanoi Temple of Literature

Van Mieu, also known as the Temple of Literature, was constructed in 1070 during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong. This magnificent temple was dedicated exclusively to Confucius and served as a center of learning for scholars and intellectuals in Vietnam.

Quoc Tu Giam, the first university in Vietnam, was built in 1076 under the reign of King Ly Nhan Tong. Initially, it was exclusively reserved for the sons of Ly kings, and later for the children of wealthy families. However, from 1253, the university welcomed the children of literate families, regardless of their social origin.

During the reign of King Tran Minh Tong, an illustrious scholar named Chu Van An was appointed as the first Rector of Quoc Tu Giam. Chu Van An was also the personal teacher of the princes. King Tran Nghe Tong had a statue of Chu Van An erected next to the statue of Confucius after his death in 1370.

Chu Van An - The first rector of Quoc Tu Giam - Temple of Literature

The Hau Le period, also known as the Le dynasty, was a golden age for Confucianism. King Le Thanh Tong had 82 stelae of the Doctors of the imperial contests erected in 1484 under the Le and Mac dynasties, between 1442 and 1779.

At the beginning of the Nguyen period, King Gia Long ended the functioning of Quoc Tu Giam and replaced the Thai Hoc house with the Khai Thanh temple, which was dedicated to the parents of Confucius. King Gia Long also erected Khue Van Cac in front of Van Mieu.

In 1947, during the French attacks, the Thai Hoc house was destroyed. However, in July 1999, the city of Hanoi rebuilt Thai Hoc on the same location inside Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam, measuring 1530m2. Today, these cultural landmarks remain an important symbol of Vietnam's rich intellectual and cultural heritage.

Charming architecture of Hanoi Temple of Literature

Encompassing an expansive area of more than 54,000 square meters, the Temple of Literature is enclosed by an ancient brick wall and comprises five distinct courtyards, each with its own unique architectural style. Within this vast complex, visitors can explore several notable areas, which are described below:

The Literature temple's main gate

Upon arriving at the Temple of Literature's main entrance, visitors are greeted by four magnificent columns known as "Tu Tru" in Vietnamese and two stelae named "Ha Ma," which translates to "dismounting from horseback." Just beyond these columns lies the impressive Van Mieu Mon gate, which serves as the entrance to the temple's inner sanctum. As visitors step  towards the gate, they will be flanked by two intricately-carved stone dragons that serve as guardians, with an artistic style that is emblematic of the Nguyen dynasty.

The first courtyard Dai Trung Mon

Dai Trung Mon means the Great Middle Gate. Once you make your way through this first courtyard, the bustling city of Hanoi fades away and you are enveloped in a serene oasis of varying shades of green. To your left and right stand the Virtue Gate and the Talent Gate, respectively. These gates symbolize the King's expectation for students to attain high levels of education.

Great Middle Gate in Hanoi Temple of Literature

As you continue on, you will see a symbol of a fish at the gate. According to legend, The Jade Emperor holds an annual competition for the fish to jump over the strongest waves and reach the other side of the waterfall, then the fish will be transformed into a mighty dragon.

But in reality, that fish is a symbol of the students who study here. Through diligent and continuous effort, they strive to become knowledgeable and brilliant enough to pass all their exams and become the mandarins.

The second courtyard Khue Van

The Pavilion of the Constellation, also known as Khue Van Cac, is an iconic symbol of Hanoi and can be seen on the back of the 100,000 Vietnam dong banknote. Built in 1805 with four white-washed stone stilts, the pavilion has a unique architecture.

Pavilion of the Constellation in the Temple of Literature

Khue Van Cac means "the pavilion of the constellation," as the whole constellation is shaped like the character for "literature" in Chinese, and Khue is the brightest star in the sky. The pavilion symbolizes the wish for a prosperous and developed education.

The third courtyard Thien Quang Well

Well of Heavenly Clarity in The Temple of Literature

The third courtyard, known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity, features a square-shaped well that represents the harmony between the sky and earth. It served as a mirror for students to dress up before entering the sacred inner part. On one side of the courtyard stands a unique house of stelae, where stone turtles carry large stelae on their backs, praising Confucianism and the Emperor, and listing information about exams and Doctors. Originally, there were 116 stelae, but only 82 remain today due to wars. The turtles represent longevity and wisdom, which are highly valued in Vietnamese culture.

The fourth courtyard Dai Thanh Mon

The fourth courtyard, known as the Gate to Great Success (meaning in Vietnamese), is one of the highlights of the Temple of Literature. It features the stunning House of Ceremonies and the sanctuary to Confucius, distinguished by its red columns and wooden beam ceilings adorned with antique-style lanterns.

gate to-great-success-temple-of-literature
Gate to Great Success in the Temple of Literature

In the center of the sanctuary, visitors can see a typical altar that exists in every traditional Vietnamese family's home. The altar, located in the most sacred part of the house, is filled with offerings and the smell of incense and is dedicated to the worship of ancestors. It is adorned with the five basic elements, including Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth, each carrying its symbolic significance.

Visitors listening to the tour guide's explaination about altar in Temple of Literature

The fifth courtyard the ground of Imperial Academy

The Temple of Literature's fifth courtyard is a two-story structure that contains a wealth of historical artifacts and cultural treasures. The ground floor houses a statue of Chu Van An, an esteemed educator and the first rector of the Imperial Academy, who devoted his life to advancing Vietnamese education. In addition to the statue, visitors can also view a collection of photographs and other artifacts that provide insight into the Confucian educational system of the era.

Ascending to the upper level, visitors will encounter a space that was once used for worship, where three kings who played pivotal roles in the temple's founding are honored. From left to right, these kings are Lý Thánh Tông, who founded the temple in 1070, Lý Nhân Tông, who established the Imperial Academy, and Lê Thánh Tông, who commissioned the creation of the stone turtles and Stelae of Doctors in 1484.

3 king statues in the Temple of Literature

82 stone stelae -  The world documentary heritage

The 82 stone stelae found at Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam in Hanoi are original artifacts and provide a unique opportunity to study the relationship between geography and culture in Vietnam's history.

These precious inscriptions are a valuable source of information on the lives and careers of Vietnamese scholars and provide a comprehensive list of graduates in Han-Nom bibliographies.

Each inscription also sheds light on the history of the examination system and the political and social context of the Vietnamese kingdom during that period, highlighting the virtues of talented individuals and the ruling monarch.

The inscription for the 1442 examination said:
“Virtuous and talented men are the primordial vitality of a nation. If this vitality is strong, the nation will be powerful and prosperous. If it is not, the nation will weaken and have a low standing. Therefore, clear – sighted monarchs always attach importance to educating talented men and selecting Confucian scholars for the mandarinate, and regard the fostering of the nation’s primordial vitality as an urgent task”.

Stelae in the Temple of Literature

The Entrance fee and How long will it take to visit Hanoi Temple of Literature ?

Entrance fee: 30 000 VND ( about 1.3 USD). Updated from 1.1.2024, the new fee is 70.000 VND
Opening hours: Daily from 7.30 - 17.30 ( in Winter) or 8.00 - 18.00 ( in Summer).

The Temple of Literature ticket

Dress code: To ensure proper decorum and respect, visitors are kindly requested to adhere to the following dress code guidelines: tank tops and mini-skirts are not permitted in the sanctuary area. Additionally, visitors are kindly requested to remove their hats while in the sanctuary area as a sign of respect. Thank you for helping to maintain the peaceful and respectful atmosphere of this sacred space.

It will take at least 2 hours to explore the Hanoi Temple of Literature so you should be mindful of timing. We recommend you should visit in the morning or late in the afternoon for good temperature, especially in Summer it will be hot in the middle of the day.

The Temple of Literature is in the list of must see for anyone who is interested in our culture, history and architecture. Visiting the Temple of Literature is one of the top things to do in Hanoi.

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