I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there. ~ Confucius
The Temple of Literature is home to two very important institutions, the shrine to Confucius as well as the site of the first university. The cluster of well preserved buildings is considered to be an example of traditional Vietnamese architecture.
When passing through the main tiered gateway, one can’t help but notice the inscribed plaque reminding visitors to dismount their horses before entering. Of course, we oblige.
The temple grounds consist of five courtyards walled in, creating a pleasant green space with gardens and walled ponds which help diffuse the noise from Hanoi’s busy street life.
Vietnam’s first university, the “Imperial Academy” (Quoc Tu Giam), was established in 1076. Initially, it was created for just the noble mandarins, but later, in 1442, it was opened to accept gifted students from all over the country. Confucianism, literature and poetry were subjects offered.
The grounds are flanked with two halls containing stone stelae (plaques) that pay tribute to the 1,306 scholars who passed rigorous exams. Only 82 stelae remain. Each plaque records the scholar’s name, birth place and achievements and sits on the back of a carved stone tortoise, a symbol of longevity. The tortoise is considered to be one of the nation’s four holy symbols which include the dragon, unicorn and phoenix.
The courtyard in the back of the compound houses a shrine dedicated to Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, important scholar and political thinker who was born in 551 B.C. and died in 479 B.C. The school of thought he founded emphasizes morality, social justice, honesty, benevolence and importance of knowledge. Unfortunately the small buildings flanking this shrine are now loaded with trinkets and souvenirs, a sign of the times.
I suggest when visiting the Temple of Literature to request a guide. I regret that we didn’t do this as we had too many questions because of the lack of information available. Many museums throughout Hanoi have placards mounted at each point of interest or pamphlets available for self-guided tours. All of that was lacking here.
Today, the Temple of Literature is often used for educational activities and cultural events including traditional musical ceremonies.
Trying to avoid the busloads of tourists visiting the temple was no easy task, but I happened on one couple who managed to. They were sharing a private moment and I didn’t want to intrude. She was wearing an “Ao Dai” which is considered to be a national costume. It is also used as a traditional wedding dress. Perhaps this couple is there for wedding photography. It would be a beautiful setting.
After visiting the Temple of Literature we went across the street and dined at KOTO, a restaurant/training facility that works with street kids. For more information about this humanitarian project please visit my previous post which describes this experience.
All photographs by Ron Mayhew Photography.