The Temple of Literature is not just another Southeast Asian temple. While it houses shrines, altars, and religious writings within, this storied location, in the heart of Hanoi, pays homage to a more secular divinity: education. This oasis of peace in an otherwise chaotic metropolis is a place for reflection, meditation, and for the serious visitor, some learning as well.
The Temple of Literature, whose origins date back to the year 1070, was Vietnam’s first national university. Though it began its existence as a temple to honor Confucius, it soon morphed into Vietnam’s Imperial Academy. The curriculum was heavily influenced by Chinese culture and arts, becoming one of the most highly prestigious universities in the country.
In fact, many of Vietnam’s most influential minds and scholars of the time could boast that the Vietnam Imperial Academy was their alma mater. This storied university would continue to function for another 700 years when, in 1779, the Nguyen dynasty replaced it with another Imperial Academy in the “new” capital of Hue.
Eventually, French colonizers designated it as a historical site and now it can be visited by both scholars and non-scholars who are looking to take in some history and culture during their stay in Hanoi.
The Temple of Literature is essentially a collection of five courtyards, each with its own significance.
The first two courtyards boast grassy lawns dotted with massive trees, with the latter housing the intricately ornate Khue Van Cac Pavilion or the Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature. This two-story structure with sacred carvings and four windows aligned with each cardinal direction was chosen as the symbol of the city of Hanoi.
The third courtyard is home to the Thien Quang Well, which is flanked by two large halls housing the Stelae of Doctors. The stelae are actually turtle carvings in bluestone, with inscriptions honoring past graduates. In its heyday, students used to rub the heads of the turtles’ for good luck on their upcoming exams.
These days, guests and students must look elsewhere for good luck rituals, as touching the statues is not permitted in an effort to preserve the stelae. The cultural value of these historic stones is held in high esteem, as is evidenced by their inscription on UNESCO’s World Memory Register.
The fourth courtyard is where you’ll find two halls, one on each side, with altars dedicated to some of Confucius’ most revered disciples. In the center is the House of Ceremonies and a highly-ornate building called Thoung Dien.
Boasting bright red pillars and Chinese characters woven into the gilded, 19th-century design, this site was created for the purpose of worshiping Confucius and four of his top disciples.
The fifth courtyard is the actual site of the old academy, and now houses exhibits showcasing its history and uniforms. Unfortunately, this courtyard was a casualty of the First Indochina War, so the buildings that occupy this hallowed ground are mostly reconstructions. From time to time, there are ceremonies and cultural events that take place in the front building.
The Temple of Literature is conveniently located in the Dong Da District, quite close to Ba Dinh Square and the Presidential Palace as well as Hoan Kiem Lake. The site is open daily, requiring a small entrance fee.
Reflect at the Temple
The Temple of Literature is more than just an iconic symbol of Vietnam’s past. It’s a source of pride for the nation and a monument to generations of scholars who sought to pass on the accumulated wisdom of the ancient world. In a region where there are temples aplenty, this is one that you will not want to miss during your stay in Vietnam’s vibrant capital of Hanoi!
Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Van Mieu, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84 24 3747 2566
Hours: Daily | 8 AM – 4:30 PM
Fees: Entrance (minimal)