That the capital city was a seat of high learning for centuries is attested to by the Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature – Imperial Academy), an invaluable cultural and historical legacy.
The Temple of Literature was established in 1070 under the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong cius, its sages and philosophers and later acted as a royal school, where King Ly Nhan Tong studied when he was a five-year-old prince.
The Imperial Academy, which can be considered Vietnam’s first university, was built in 1076 next to the temple. Over the next seven centuries and more, the university produced thousands of scholars for the country. Under the reign of King Tran Minh Tong (1314-1329), teacher Chu Van An, who passed a doctoral examination, was appointed the school’s principal. After his death in 1370, King Tran Nghe Tong (1321 – 1394) had him worshiped beside Confucius at the Temple of Literature. Many schools in Vietnam are also named after Chu Van An.
The temple of Literature – Imperial Academy is bordered by four streets today: Quoc Tu Giam street in the south, Nguyen Thai Hoc In the north, Ton Duc Thang in the west, and Van Mieu in the east. The 5,400 – meter – square historical heritage site had been restored many times.
In 1805 Nguyen Van Thanh, the commander of the Northern Citadel, built the Khue Van Cac (constellation of literature), a large pavilion in the temple. The Imperial Academy was then a district school, and the Khai Thanh Temple, dedicated to the memory of Confucius’ parents, was built here.
In 1946, the Imperial academy in Hanoi was destroyed by French bombing, but gradually restored later. In 1999, the Hanoi administration built two wooden houses here. One of them is used for displaying the country’s traditional values of education and holding seminars. The other is for worshipping Chu Van An, and displaying items of the ancient Temple of Literature – Imperial academy.
To enter the main area of the Temple of Literature, visitors must go through three gates. The first gate, called Van Mieu Mon, has three doors. The second is called Dai Trung Mon and the third, Dai Thanh Mon.
In the space between Dai Trung Mon and Dai Thanh Mon is the one-storey, two-roof pavilion called Khue Van Cac. The ground floor has four pillars with sophisticated carvings on each side. On the first floor, the four walls have wooden rims, and carry carvings of gold-rimmed Chinese parallel sentences. In the past, Khue Van Cac was a place for scholars to comment on the writing of candidates who’d passed an examination.
Behind Khue Van Cac is the Thien Quang Tinh (Well of Heavenly Clarity), on either side of which 41 stones steles stand in two rows. They stand upon stone turtles and are inscribed with the names and birthplaces of successful doctoral candidates from the triennial examinations held at the Imperial Academy from 1484 to 1780.
Now a major tourist site, the Temple of Literature – imperial Academy also hosts award ceremonies to recognize outstanding students. An annual poetry festival is held here on the 15th of the first lunar month.
High school students descend on the temple every summer to pray for luck before sitting for the annual university examinations.
Address: The Temple of Literature – Imperial Academy is located at 58 Quoc Tu Giam Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi.