Near the southern edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter lies the Temple of Literature. This temple dedicated to Confucius was built in 1070 CE, is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong banknote.
The compound is quite expansive, containing five courtyards and ponds. Visitors pay 30,000 Dong (~$1.50) each to enter and see the temple. If you want, you can purchase a map or get a guided tour for an extra fee. We elected to just wander around ourselves.
Upon entering, you find the first courtyard stretching for several hundred feet, with gardens to the side. The design is simple, yet elegant. It is quite peaceful. At the end of the first courtyard, you cross through a gate, to which you will then enter the second courtyard.
The second courtyard contains the “Constellation of Literature Pavilion”. The pavilion sits atop four white stilts, and is topped by red circular windows with an elaborate roof. A bronze bell hangs inside and is rung on special occasions. In this courtyard, as in the first, you can find topiaries of the twelve zodiac animals.
Proceeding on, we found the third courtyard – the “Well of Heavenly Clarity”. This courtyard has a large square pond in the center, with two halls on the side housing treasures of the temple. As well, you can find the Stelae of Doctors. in 1484, the King Le Thanh Tong erected 116 blue stone carved turtles to honor talent and study. The temple has been used since it’s construction for the training of scholars and testing of public officials. Exams were taken here, and those that passed had their names engraved forever upon the stone turtles. People might take testing a bit more seriously today if our names were going to be engraved in a temple for people to see centuries later. Today 1307 graduates of 82 triennial royal exams have been marked, with 82 stelae still remaining.
The fourth courtyard houses the Dai Thanh sanctuary. The sanctuary honors Confucius and his four closest disciples as well as ten honored philosophers. There are gift shops in this section of the temple, as well as few snacks to be purchased. There was also a display of instruments within the building. A few people were testing out the instruments. I ended up trying to play the Dan Bau on display (I don’t know if I was really allowed, but no one got mad, and someone there tried to show me the correct way – I gave up quick because it’s way harder than it looks) – Briana wasn’t happy with me getting on the stage and playing around up there. It’s been months since I played an instrument, and my fingers have been itching to play (probably because I just went on stage to play someone else’s instrument without asking them.)
The fifth and final courtyard houses the large building with shrines within and a second floor dedicated to the three monarchs who contributed to the foundation of the temple and the academy. The courtyard also houses 25 dormitories, a store house, and a drum room.
Although the temple itself is no longer used for it’s initial purposes, it still is used ceremoniously at times. The most notable of which is before Tet, during which calligraphists will make write good luck wishes Han characters and given away as gifts. Outside of the temple is a public park with many badminton courts to play on.
The temple is a lovely way to spend an afternoon and well worth the visit. Allot yourself about an hour and half to do it justice and take it at an easy pace. There is a lot of walking to do considering the temple is very long and narrow.
Rub the turtle for good luck.