Temple of Literature – The First University of Vietnam

Temple of Literature – The First University of Vietnam

By Ta Duc Viet – Equipment Department

If you have an opportunity to do some sightseeing in Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam, Van Mieu (Quoc Tu Giam) will be the best stop – over for your journey. This complex is not only a historical relic of Vietnam but also the symbol of Vietnam’s intellectual culture.

Van Mieu, or Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 under the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong (1054 – 1072). Its original purpose was to dedicate Confucians, sages and scholars; but six years later, in 1076, a national university called Quoc Tu Giam (Imperial Academy) was built within this temple. Therefore, the complex has been attached to the name of Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam up to now and made the Temple of Literature a famous tourist destination for both Vietnamese and foreigners. In early 2013, one part of the temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Now, please follow us in a brief tour to discover the beauty and values of it.

Historical Significance – Vietnam’s first university

Quoc Tu Giam was established in 1076 by King Ly Nhan Tong as a school for Prince and expanded in the following year to admit sons from royal families chosen by the Emperor to study here. In 1253, King Tran Thai Tong opened up the gate of the royal university to excellent students from all over the country to cultivate high-ranking mandarins and serve the nation. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779.

It cannot be denied that Quoc Tu Giam was the biggest educational center in our country under the feudal system. Contributing to trainings of thousands of scholars for the nation at that time, Quoc Tu Giam deserves to be called the first National University of Vietnam. Besides that, we also have to refer to Chu Van An (1292 – 1370) — the famous scholar whose name has become the moral model for the integrity and devotion to education in the country. With the position of the Imperial Academy headmaster for 40 years, he is the only teacher honored with an altar at Van Mieu.

Nowadays, at the weekend or holidays, many local people, especially students, get here to pay a visit, burn incense and show deep gratitude to the forefathers. They also believe that touching the head of the stone tortoises at Van Mieu will make them lucky and pass the examinations.
Chu Van An Altar

A beautiful spot with great architectural worth

Van Mieu complex consists of 5 courtyards, each with a decorative portal serving as an entrance.

Stepping through the first Van Mieu Mon — the main Gate via the impressive twin-tiered gate, you will see three pathways that lead to the complex. The centre path was reserved for the King only, the one to its left for administrative Mandarins and the one to its right for military Mandarins.

At the end of the second yard and the third gate, Khue Van Cac or the Constellation of Literature – a much more recent addition built in 1805 was decorated with an upper level where four radiant suns can be seen. Through this gate, one is confronted by a huge reflecting pool – Thien Quang Tinh or the Well of Heavenly Clarity.

The fourth yard comes up with the Temple of Confucius where he and other sages are shrined. It now encompasses offices, a souvenir shop and a small museum where inkwells, pens, books and personal artifacts belonging to some of the students having studied here through the years are displayed. In the fifth yard, you can see the study room from centuries ago. A model of the temple and several old photographs are exhibited in the building at the very end of thes yard.

The fifth courtyard with Thai Hoc Buildings was once destroyed by the French Empire in 1947 and re-constructed in 2000 to honor traditional culture, and celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long – Ha Noi foundation. Though having gone through lots of restoration, the temple still keeps its very first original shape, becomes one of the visit –worthy sightseeing spots of Hanoi and captivates a huge number of tourists elsewhere.

Surrounded by the modern and dynamic city of Hanoi, the “Temple of Literature” is a calm sanctuary and a splendid example of Vietnamese architecture.

Hanoi’s Symbol
In the process of drafting the capital law in November, 2012, the majority of opinions recommended choosing “Khue Van Cac” (Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature) — the traditional symbol of the fondness of learning of Hanoi people in particular and Vietnamese people in general ­– as the symbol of the capital city.
According to the explanation of the Government on the Law of the Capital, the symbol of the capital city is the typical image that is associated with the history and culture of Hanoi and Vietnam, expresses the aspirations, the intelligence, the pride of Hanoi people and the Vietnamese.

Memory of the Word, Unesco Certificate

A solemn ceremony was held in Hanoi on February 25, 2013 to receive the UNESCO’s certificate that includes the surviving 82 stone steles honoring doctoral laureates in the Le– Mac dynasties (1442 – 1779) at Van Mieu in the list of heritages recognized as the Memory of the World Register.

The stone steles (out of the original 112) set on shell of giant stone tortoises at Van Mieu were carved with the name of 2,313 doctorate holders who passed the royal examinations.

Especially, in the first stone stele is a well-known sentence: “Hiền tài là nguyên khí của quốc gia,” meaning that “The talented and righteous persons are the precious resources of the country.” It affirms the everlasting appreciation of Vietnamese forefather for knowledge and genius.
Today’s Van Mieu

To attract tourists to visit this historic Hanoi symbol, a variety of traditional Vietnamese activities are held annually from February 11th to 17th (January 2nd to 8th according to the Lunar calendar), including music performances and water puppet, Chinese chess and human chess competitions, as well as dragon dances.

In spite of the drizzly weather of spring season, Hanoi people and visitors still queue up alongside the “street of calligraphers” to ask for lucky handwritings in calligraphy, both in Vietnamese and Chinese characters. With these painting, they hope for good health, luck and success in the Snake Year 2013. Other notable activity is National Poetry Day. Established since 2010, the holiday usually falls on Nguyen Tieu festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month) which draws a lot of people to present their poems and share feelings with each other about literature.

Nowadays, Van Mieu is above all, an oasis of tranquility amidst the chaos of Hanoi’s never – ending traffic. Although Van Mieu is surrounded by three main roads of Hanoi, you can enjoy a break in this site without even noticing that there are hundreds of vehicles rushing by just behind the walls of the temple.

In eastern religion, culture and philosophy, the odd number 5 is a holy digit that represents for the stability and development. Hence, I hope that after introducing the 5 subjects correlative with 5 courtyards, you will have a comprehensive picture about the most famous site in Vietnam.

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