The Temple Of Literature (Van Mieu)

    The Temple of Literature, located in Hanoi, is an ancient Confucian temple that was founded in 1070 AD. Known as the “pagode des Corbeaux” when the French occupied Vietnam, and as the Temple of Literature in English, the Vietnamese call the structure “Van Mieu”.

    The Van Mieu in Hanoi is not the only one like it – there are several other Van Mieu located throughout Vietnam. The one in Hanoi, however, is the biggest and definitely the one most worth visiting - indeed many people would rate it as one of Hanoi's best attractions for sightseeing and gleaming an insight into the history and culture of the city.

    The History of the Temple of Literature

    Originally, the Van Mieu functioned as elite universities. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi was Vietnam's first university, and held the central place in higher education in Vietnam for 700 years, from 1076 to 1779. Six years after the temple was founded, the Imperial Academy was founded within it. Designed to educate the Vietnamese nobility, the Imperial Academy was a rigorous institution. Known for extremely challenging doctor laureate examinations, in its seven hundred year history only 2,313 earned doctor laureate degrees.

    Layout and Points of Interest

    The Van Mieu in Hanoi is widely considered one of Hanoi's most important and beautiful historical sites. A twin-tiered gate opens into three pathways that run the length of the entire complex. The path in the centre was to be used only by the king, while the left path was for administrators and the right path for the military. Students were not allowed to use the main gate at all, but instead used smaller side gates.

    While communist ideology rendered much of Hanoi a little drab and serious, the royal elegance of the Temple of Literature has been left largely intact. Inside the complex are five interconnected courtyards, koi ponds filled with water lilies, and low buildings once used as classrooms. The main hall itself is opulent, with red lacquered pillars, ornate teak furniture, statues, and screens, sometimes painted with golden dragons.

    The first two courtyards are filled with ancient trees and manicured lawns. The third courtyard is entered through the Khue Van Cac, or “Constellation of Literature”, which was built in the early nineteenth century. In the centre of the third courtyard is the Thien Quang Tinh (“Well of Heavenly Clarity”), a temple. On either side are two long, low halls filled with stately treasures. In particular, these two halls hold stone tortoises inscribed with the names of all the scholars who earned a doctorate at the Academy.

    In the fourth courtyard are statues of Confucian scholars, as well as a gift shop and small museum. The fifth courtyard was the home of the university itself, but unfortunately the fifth courtyard was mostly destroyed by French bombing in 1947. Restoration work on the Temple of Literature began in the early twentieth century and continues to this day.

    In sharp contrast to the gritty, busy city of Hanoi, the gardens and grounds of the Temple of Literature are serene, green, and elegant. For anyone interested in traditional Chinese/Vietnamese architecture, the site is a must-see.