Văn Miếu

Coordinates: 21°1′43″N 105°50′8″E / 21.02861°N 105.83556°E / 21.02861; 105.83556

The Temple of Literature (Vietnamese: Văn Miếu, Hán tự: 文廟) is a temple of Confucius in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. The compound also houses the Imperial Academy (Quốc Tử Giám, 國子監). Although several Temples of Literature can be found throughout Vietnam, the most prominent and famous is that situated in the city of Hanoi, which also functioned as Vietnam's first university. The temple was first constructed in 1070 under King Lý Nhân Tông and is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.

The Imperial Academy was the first national university of Vietnam. It was constructed in 1076 during the reign of King Lý Nhân Tông for training the talented men, including crown princes, for the nation. For nearly 1000 years, it has preserved its ancient architectural style of many dynasties and precious relics at the sanctuary. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places, where many offering ceremonies, study sessions and strict exams of the Dai Viet took place.

The temple was reconstructed during the Trần (1225 – 1400) and subsequent dynasties. Through the years, the temple have been destroyed various times by wars and other disasters, and have gone through several major restoration works in 1920, 1954, and 2000. Today the site is one of the important historical and cultural sites of Hanoi and the country and still used for organizing cultural and scientific events. In honour it is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng banknote.


According to the book the Complete History of the Great Viet, "In the autumn of the year Canh Tuat, the second year of Than Vu (1070), in the 8th lunar month, during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature was built. The statues of Confucius, his four best disciples: Yan Hui (Nhan Uyên), Zengzi (Tăng Sâm), Zisi (Tử Tư), and Mencius (Mạnh Tử), as well as the Duke of Zhou (Chu Công), were carved and 72 other statues of Confucian scholars were painted. Ceremonies were dedicated to them in each of the four seasons. The Crown Princes studied here."

In 1076 Vietnam's first university, the Quốc Tử Giám (國子監) or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam's bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779. After that the Nguyen dynasty established the Imperial Academy, Huế.

In the run-up to the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tết, calligraphist tend to assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán tự, which are popular amongst Vietnamese as gifts or to be used as decoration at home for auspicious occasions.


This ancient Confucian sanctuary is considered one of Hanoi's finest historical sites. The temple is based on the one at Confucius' hometown Qufu in the Chinese province of Shandong.

The Temple of Literature is located to the south of Thang Long Citadel. It covers an area of over 54,000 square metres, including the Literature (Van) lake, Giam park and the interior courtyards surrounded by the brick wall. In front of the Great Gate are four high pillars. On either side of the pillars are two stelae commanding horsemen to dismount.

The gate leads to three pathways that run the length of the complex. The centre path was reserved for the monarch, the one to its left for administrative Mandarins and the one to its right for military Mandarins.

The interior of the site is divided into five courtyards:

First Courtyard

The first courtyward extends from the Great Portico to the Great Middle (Dai Trung) gate, which is flanked by two smaller gates: Attained Talent (Dai Tai) and Accomplished Virtue( Than Duc).

Second Courtyard

The second courtyard is notable for the Constellation of Literature pavilion (Khuê Văn Các), a unique architectural work built in 1805, a symbol of Hanoi today. The pavilion is built on four, white-washed stone stilts, at the top is a red-coloured pavilion with two circular windows and an elaborate roof. Inside, a bronze bell hangs from the ceiling which was rang for auspicious occasions. To the sides of the Constellation of Literature pavilion are the Crystallization of Letters (Suc Văn) gate and Magnificence of Letters (Bi Văn) gate, which praise the beauty of the content and form of literature. The first two courtyards are quiet areas with ancient trees and trimmed lawns, where scholars could relax away from the bustle of the outside world beyond the thick stone walls.

Third Courtyard

Entrance to the third courtyard is through the dominating Constellation of Literature, a large pavilion built in 1802. On either side of the Well of Heavenly Clarity (Thien Quang Tinh) stand two great halls which house the true treasures of the temple, housing 82 doctors' stelae symmetrically lined up on the two sides of the tank.

Leading to the fourth courtyard is the Great Synthesis (Dai Thanh) gate, flanked by two smaller gates: Golden Sound (Kim Thanh) and Jade Vibration (Ngoc Chan).

Stelae of Doctors

There are 82 preserved stelae of doctor laureate, which record the names and native places of 1,307 graduates of 82 triennial royal exams. 81 exams were held by the Le dynasty and one by the Mac dynasty, which were held from 1442 to 1779. The stelae were first set up in 1484 under King Lê Thánh Tông to honour talents and encourage present and future generations to study. The stelae, erected soon after the exams or some years later, are carved of blue stone of different size and engraved with elaborate motifs. Of the 116 steles corresponding to the examinations held between 1142 and 1778, only 82 remain and 34 are believed to have been lost over the years.

The works of literature engraved on each stele in ancient Chinese praise the merits of the monarch and cite the reason for holding royal exams. Also included on the stele were the number of candidates and the functions of the mandarins whose task it was to organise the exams and engrave the names and birthplaces of successful candidates.

The stelae of doctor laureates were placed on giant stone turtles. The turtle (quy) is one of the four country's holy creatures, along with the dragon (long), unicorn (ly) and phoenix (phuong), is a symbol of longevity. The placement of the doctors' stelae shows everlasting respect to talent. The shape of the turtle changed with the passing of time. The doctors' stelae are a valuable historical resource for the study of culture, education and sculpture in Vietnam.

Fourth Courtyard

In the fourth courtyard, on the right and left sides of the ceremonial court, stand two halls, originally used to house the altars to the 72 most honoured disciples of Confucius and Chu Van An, rector of the Imperial Academy. In the centre is the House for Ceremonies (Bai Duong), where ceremonies took places for auspicious occasions. The next building is the Dai Thanh sanctuary, where Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi and Mencius are worshipped. The sanctuary also houses altars to ten honoured philosophers. A small museum displays ink wells, pens, books and personal artefacts belonging to some of the students that studied here through the years.

Fifth Courtyard

The fifth courtyard was reconstructed in 2000 on the former grounds of the imperial academy to honour the national traditions of culture and education of Vietnam. In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong ordered the construction of the imperial academy and selected literate mandarins as its students. In 1236, it was enlarged and named as Quoc Tu Vien, then Quoc Hoc Vien, and under the Le dynasty it was called Thai Hoc Vien and reconstructed on a large scale, including the Minh Luan house, west and east classrooms, storehouse of wooden printing blocks, and two lines of three 25-room dormitories for students. In 1802, the Nguyen monarchs made Hue as capital and built another imperial academy there. The one in Hanoi became smaller and became a school of Hoai Duc district. Then the Khai Thanh shrine was built there to honour the parents of Confucius. The courtyard was completely destroyed by the French in 1946.

The reconstructed designs of the fifth courtyard were based on the traditional architecture in harmony with the surrounding sights of the temple. With an area of 1,530 m2 out of a total of 6,150 m2, the Thai Hoc courtyard consists of the front building, the rear building, left and right buildings, bell house, drum house and other buildings.

The front building is used for organising ceremonies in memory of cultural scholars, scientific activities and for cultural events. The rear building consists of two storeys. The ground floor is used for displaying the statue of Chu Van An, rector of the academy, to honour him and the exhibits of the temple and the academy, and on the Confucian education in Vietnam. The upper floor is dedicated to the three monarchs who contributed most to the foundation of the temple and the academy: Ly Thanh Tong (1023-1072), who founded the temple in 1070, Ly Nhan Tong (1066-1128), who founded the imperial academy, an Le Thanh Tong (1442-1497), who ordered the erection of the stone stelae of doctor laureates in 1484.

In both sides of the rear building are square houses for a drum and a bronze bell. The drum's diameter is 2.01 metres wide, and 2.65 metres high, with a weight of 700 kilogram. The volume is 10 m3. The bell was cast in 2000 with the height of 2.1 metres, its diameter is 0.99 metres wide.

Today the courtyard is where the talents of the country are honoured, and where cultural and scientific activities take place in order to honour the country's heritage and celebrate traditions.

Study at the Imperial Academy

The organization of instruction and learning at the Imperial Academy began in 1076 under the Ly dynasty and was further developed in the 15th century under the Le dynasty. The academy was headed by a rector (Te tuu) and vice-rector (Tu nghiep). The professors of the academy had different titles: Giao thu, Truc giang, Tro giao and Bac si.

Most of the students (giam sinh) had passed the regional exam (huong). During the course of study, the students paid special attention to the discussion of literature, and wrote poetry as well. Their textbooks were "The Four Books" (The Great Study, the Golden Means, The Analects, Mencius), "The Five Pre-Confucian Classics" (Book of Odes, Book of Annals, Book of Rites, Book of Spring and Autumn, Book of Change), ancient poetry, Chinese history and others.

The students had to learn at the academy for three to seven years. They had minor tests each month and four major tests each year. If they completed enough of their them, their study results were then approved by the Ministry of Rites to qualify for the national exam (Hoi). The candidates need to pass the national exam to sit for the royal exam (Dinh) held at court. At this exam, the monarch himself posed the questions, responded to the candidates' answer and then ranked those who passed the royal exam into different grades. The imperial academy was the biggest educational centre in the country. Contributing to train thousands of scholars for the nation, it was worthy of being called the first national university of Vietnam.

  • Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giám: The Temple of Literature, School for the Sons of the Nation, Hà Noi Viet Nam. A Walking Tour. Hanoi: Thế Giới Publishers. 2004. pp. 85. 

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