Temple of Literature in Hanoi – Hanoi Attraction

Van Mieu – The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 under King Ly Thanh Tong, dedicated to Confucius, his sages, Confucian scholars, and Crown prince studied here.

Quoc Tu Giam – the first National University of Vietnam was constructed in 1076 under King Ly Nhan Tong for training the talented men for the nation.

The Exterior Areas

Surrounding the temple is a park called Giam Park and Minh Duong Lake or Literature Lake. The lake is in the opposite side of the entrance. In its centre is a small islet called Minh Chau

The journey of education starts with the respect. This would be proved by two stelae, called Ha Ma, on the pavement just ouside the Temple of Literature, used to command horsemen to dismount. Everyone, even the king, had to get off their horses to express their respect to this sanctuary site when passing by.

There are four pillars in front of Great Portico. On the top of two higher pillars in the middle are carved unicorns. People believe that unicorn is the sacred animal with the ability to recognize the right or the wrong, the good or the evil.

The Interior Areas

The interior is divided into 5 courtyards.

1.The first courtyard

This courtyard starts from the Great Portico to Dai Trung gate (Great middle gate). The gate has 3 doors, on the rooftop of the gate, you can see two carps flanking the Wine gourd. There is a story related to carps and students’ effort for success. In the story, carps tried to overcome the waterfall to become dragons, just like young scholars trying to overcome challenges to become doctorates so that they might devote their virtue and knowledge to the country.

On its two sides are the gates of Dat Tai (attained Talent) and Thanh Duc (accomplished Virtue), a great man must be both talented and virtuous.

2.The second courtyard

The highlight of this courtyard is Khue Van Cac – The Pavilion of Literature Constellation. This large pavilion was built in 1805 under Nguyen Dynasty, with the purpose of displaying the literature culture as well as brilliant civilization and culture of the Vietnamese people. Its round window symbolizes Sao Khue – The star of Literature. This star includes 16 small stars arranged like the shape of the word “文” – Literature in Chinese. With its unique architecture and deep meaning, Khue Van Cac has been chosen as the symbol of Hanoi, the symbol of intelligentsia, of intelligence and literature in Vietnam. You can see its imagery many communication and tourist products of the city, like the logo of the Hanoi Broadcasting Station or paintings and postcards. On two sides of the Khue Van Cac are the gates of Suc Van (“Crystallization of Letters’’) and Bi Van (“Magnificence of Letters”). These two smaller gates are dedicated to the beauty of literature, referring to both content and form.

3.The third courtyard: Garden of Stelae

a/ Gieng Thien QuangWell of  Heavenly Clarity

Gieng Thien Quang (Well of Heavenly Clarity) reflects the light of the sky. In Vietnamese, “Thien” means heaven, “Quang” means light. This architecture was built according to the concept of the ancients: the square well symbolizes the land, the round door of Khue Van Cac symbolizes the sun. It means that every essence of the earth and sky converge here, it is a place to train talents for the whole country.

b/ Vườn bia – Garden of Stelae

Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam has preserved 82 stelae of doctorates which recorded the names and birth places of 1304 graduates of 82 court exams held from 1442 to 1779. Many of those were well- known in our history.

The stelae were first set up in 1484 under King Le Thanh Tong to honor the talents and encourage the study of contemporary generations and next generations.

The stelaes include 3 parts: forehead, body and bottom.

On the forehead:
From 1484 to 1536: forehead carved flowers, clouds, moon.
In 1653: is the image of 2 dragons flanking the moon, the symbol of development and prosperity in Confucianism.
From 1717 to 1780: sculpture lively topics, reality

The body is the most important part of the stelae. It starts with the date of the court examination, then the epitaph describing the social situation at that time, the methods and objectives of organizing that exam, the number of doctorates, and of course their names and birth places.

The stelae of doctor laureates were placed on tortoises’ backs. The tortoise is one of the four sacred creatures of the Vietnamese, along with the dragon, unicorn and phoenix. It symbolizes the longevity and strength. Placing doctorate stelae on the tortoise shows our everlasting respect to talents.

In 2011, 82 stone stelae were recognized as the world’s documentary heritage.

Examinations & Famous doctors

At that time, to become a doctorate, a student had to study from 10 to 15 years. And he had to pass 3 great exams: Huong, Hoi and Dinh. Huong exams that is exams equivalent as pass graduated as now. The students who passed this exam would study at Quoc Tu Giam School and then would take part in Hoi exam, and pass in Hoi exam is considered pass Doctor; then candidate will enter a further examination that is the highest exam is Dinh exams. Based on the results, candidates would be divided into 3 levels: First-rank doctorates, Second-rank doctorates, Third-rank doctorates. Only First-rank doctorateswere ranked Tam Khoi (three best titles): Trang Nguyen – (the first), Bang Nhan – (the second), and Tham Hoa – (the third).

The youngest first doctoral is Nguyen Hien, he gained this title in 1247 at the age of 13. The oldest one is Quach Dong Dan, he gained the title in 1634 at the age of 68.

4.The fourth courtyard

In the fourth courtyard, there is Dai Bai (Great Court), Bai Duong (House of Ceremonies), Dai Thanh (Sanctuary of the Great Success).

In the past, Dai Thanh Mon or the Gate of Dai Thanh Sanctuary was only open when the king celebrated the ceremonies to Confucius. Others might enter the great hall and the sanctuary through 2 small gates on its both sides: Kim Thanh (sound of bronze bell) in the East and Ngọc Chan (sound of jade gong) in the West.

The king did the ceremony in House of Ceremonies. New doctors also came to kowtow to show their respect, the incense table was set in the middle aisle.

Above the incense table is the horizontal lacquered board with the sentences “Van the su bieu”, – “the great teacher of the world”. King Khang Hy of China gave these title to Confucius when he visited Confucius Temple in  Khuc Phu village. On the right, there is another lacquered board of the Deputy headmaster of Imperial College Nguyn Nghiem in 1768 “Co kim nhat nguyet”, which means knowledge like sun and moon shinning from now on.

On two sides of the incense table, the image of 2 flamingos standing on the backs of the turtle symbolizes the harmony of the Sky and the Earth. According to some legends, the turtle and the flamingo were close friends. The turtle lived in the water while the flamingo flew in the sky. When their place of living was flooded, the turtle helped the flamingo move to a dry place. Conversely, when the droughts happen, the turtle was brought into the water by the flamingo. This legend told the lessons of fidelity and mutual support between good friends during the hardship.

Behind the House of Ceremonies is the Dai Thanh sanctuary. The sanctuary is the place where Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui (Nhan Hoi), Zengshen (Tu Tu), Zisi (Tang Tu) and Mencius (Manh Tu) are worshipped. The sanctuary also hosts altars to ten honoured philosophers.

5.Fifth couryard

The last section of the relic zone is the location of the old national university- Quoc Tu Giam school. Quoc Tu Giam was built in 1076 under King Ly Nhan Tong dynasty. The school existed for more 700 years and trained many great and talented people for Vietnam. Then, in 1946, Quoc Tu Giam was destroyed during the war. What you see today is completely rebuilt in 2000, simulating the ancient architecture.

The Thái Học courtyard consists of the front building, the rear building, left and right buildings, bell house, drum house. Today, it is used for honouring the talents of country. The front building is used for organizing ceremonies in memory of cultural scholars, scientific and cultural activities.

The rear building consists of two storeys. The ground floor is used for displaying the statue of Chu Van An, Great Director of Quoc Tu Giam and the exhibits on the history of Van Mieu Quoc Tu giam and on Confucian education in Viet Nam.

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