About 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. The temple complex, consisting of five courtyards, is extensive and well kept, and makes a welcome retreat from the frenetic streets of Hanoi.
The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu, 文廟) is a temple of Confucius in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. The temple hosts the “Imperial Academy” (Quốc Tử Giám, 國子監), Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Nhân Tông. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. The Temple is located to the south of Thang Long Citadel. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place. The temple is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng banknote. Just before the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tết, calligraphists will assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán characters. The art works are given as gifts or are used as home decorations for special occasions.
The temple was built in 1070 then reconstructed during the Trần dynasty (1225–1400) and in subsequent dynasties. For nearly two centuries, despite wars and disasters, the temple has preserved ancient architectural styles of many dynasties as well as precious relics. Major restorations have taken place in 1920, 1954 and 2000.
“In the autumn of the year Canh Tuat, the second year of Than Vu (1070), in the 8th lunar month, during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature was built. The statues of Confucius, his four best disciples: Yan Hui (Nhan Uyên), Zengzi (Tăng Sâm), Zisi (Tử Tư), and Mencius (Mạnh Tử), as well as the Duke of Zhou (Chu Công), were carved and 72 other statues of Confucian scholars were painted. Ceremonies were dedicated to them in each of the four seasons. The Crown Princes studied here.”
In 1076, Vietnam’s first university, the “Quốc Tử Giám” or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. The university remained open from 1076 to 1779. In 1802, the Nguyen monarchs founded the Huế capital where they established a new imperial academy. The academy at the Hanoi temple lost its prominence and became a school of the Hoai Duc district.
Under the French protectorate, the Temple of the Literature was registered as Monument historique in 1906. Campaigns of restoration were pursued in 1920 and 1947 under the responsibility of École française d’Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East) and again after the World War II.