Photo: Hanoi's first university.

Temple of Literature

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The tranquil and sprawling Temple of Literature was established in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, and became the site of Vietnam’s first university, the Imperial Academy or Quoc Tu Giam, six years later.





Today the grounds make for an interesting wander and step back into history, though the buildings are much newer after repeated renovations over the centuries.

The entrance to the Temple of Literature looks particularly colourful during spring. Photo taken in or around Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The entrance to the Temple of Literature looks particularly colourful during spring. Photo: Samantha Brown

Set on a large, rectangular complex encompassing five walled courtyards connected by gateways, among green gardens sprinkled with hanging orchids and featuring reflecting pools, the temple is something of a retreat from the hustle on the streets outside.

The temple features on Vietnam’s 100,000 dong note and was dedicated to the cult of Confucius, which broke the monopoly over education previously held by Buddhism. The layout is similar to that of the temple at Confucius’ birthplace, Qufu in Shandong. Initially mandarins and high-ranking civil servants were educated at the university, typically for three to seven years, but later outstanding students of no particular rank were also educated here.

A few of the turtles and their stellae. Photo taken in or around Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

A few of the turtles and their stellae. Photo: Samantha Brown

After walking through the entrance gate and a large manicured garden, once used by scholars to relax in, visitors reach the Well of Heavenly Clarity, beside which are 82 of an original 117 turtles (representing wisdom) carrying stellae listing the names, places of birth and achievements of graduate students who accomplished exceptional results during the Le Dynasty, which started in 1484. The names on some of the stellae have been scratched out—these are scholars who subsequently met with some sort of disgrace or royal disapproval, and were expunged from the record. In 1802, Emperor Gia Long transferred the national university to the new capital, Hue.

In modern times students used to come to rub the heads of the turtles for good luck ahead of their exams, but the turtles have now been roped off to ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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Temple of Literature
Quoc Tu Giang St, Hanoi
Mid-April to mid-October 07:30-18:00, otherwise 08:00-18:00, but all Sats 08:00-18:00.
T: (04) 3845 2917 
Admission: 30,000 dong

Location map for Temple of Literature

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