Got exams? Devoted to Confucius? Then this is the place to be. Dizzy with the swarm of motorbikes in Dong Da? Need to take a break? Then this is the place to be. Looking for a pre-nuptial photo op? Then this is the place to be. Is it your first time in Hanoi? Then this is the place to be.
The Temple of Literature is nearly as old as Hanoi City. It was originally a Confucian sanctuary built in 1070 under the Ly Dynasty. Six years after, the first national university of Vietnam was established within its premises. The Imperial Academy was a school for the elite that included the Crown Prince. It later became a school for the local district. Though restored a number of times, its wood, tile and stone works remain truest to its authentic architectural design. It certainly is one of the finest historical and cultural sites in the city.
A visit to the Temple of Literature starts from the Great Gate. You walk through five courtyards with each having a character. The first is a well-kept green garden with three paved paths to the second courtyard. The path in the middle used to be reserved only for the king and the side paths were for administrative and military Mandarins.
The Constellation of Literature, my favorite structure here, is in the second courtyard. Like a centerpiece, one’s eyes are drawn to this beautiful red-painted wood pavilion with circular windows on white stone stilts. It stands out as a splash of color for the entire park. Worthy to be an icon of Hanoi! It is even featured in the 100,000 Vietnamese dong note.
The third has the Well of Heavenly Clarity and two great hallways on opposite sides of the well. These have the names of successful scholars engraved on carved stone turtles, symbolizing longevity. You might catch some students rubbing a turtle’s head for good luck on their exams. The fourth has altars to honor Confucius and his disciples. And the fifth has the two-storey schoolhouse that now serves as a museum. A two-meter high bell and a two-meter wide drum were installed on the sides in recent years.
The Temple of Literature is more tranquil when you get there before busloads of foreign-speaking tourists or Vietnamese students on a field trip arrive. But even so, there will always be a spot for you…for solitude, for appreciation or for whatever reason. It is the place to be.