The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu in Vietnamese) is a temple of Confusius in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is still an actively used temple, but it was also the place where the Imperial Academy where the talented men, including the crown princes studied. It was established as the first university in Vietnam in the year 1070 by the King Lý Nhân Tông, and it functioned for more than 700 years until year 1779 when the King from the Nguyen Dinasty moved the Imperial Academy to the new capital in Huế. Today it is still an actively used Confusius temple, and it’s a popular tourist destination for the locals and foreigners alike given the long history of Vietnamese culture that it represents.
We went to the Temple of Literature after our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Complex. When we reached the entrance, we had to wait for a little bit to enter as it was quite packed with visitors. As compared to the Ho Chi Minh Complex, we saw more foreign visitors at the Temple of Literature. Perhaps it’s because of its location that’s closer to the Old Quarter, or because it’s perhaps more interesting for the foreigners to learn about the history and culture rather than about (propaganda on) the life of Ho Chi Minh.
When we entered inside the walled complex, it felt like we’re transformed to a different world from the busy modern Hanoi. It was quite peaceful and tranquil in there. The atmosphere reminded me to scenes from Chinese martial arts drama series that I used to watch in Indonesia when I was little — places where people would go to retreat from the world, being trained in the martial arts and religious practices, going through tests to prove what they had learned, and then come out as wiser and more skilled persons (for little kids… think Kung Fu Panda).
I thought it was quite remarkable to think that the university was established so long ago, in year 1070. As comparison, the first university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University in England, was established around year 1090, and the first university in America, Harvard University, was established in 1636. That speaks for the rich history that the Vietnamese culture has.
The photo below was taken as we entered the first courtyard inside the Temple of Literature Complex. You could see the nicely landscaped courtyard that encouraged visitors to slow down from the hectic pace of life, and perhaps spend time to reflect and meditate.