I’M wandering through Instagram and happen across a delightful snap of the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
This particular photo, a line of the turtle statues that stand around the grounds to honour the students that studied at Hanoi’s first university many centuries ago, prompt me to see what else travellers are posting from their time at the Temple of Literature.
What I find are snaps that remind me why this sanctuary is one of my favourite places in the Vietnamese capital.
It’s a patch of green in a busy neighbourhood, a private garden inside a high wall that seems to block the sounds of the metropolis from invading the space, that always presents a place to catch my breath during a big day pounding the pavement to explore Hanoi.
Sitting in the shade, beside the beautifully preserved Vietnamese structures, is always a time recharge for the next stop on my sightseeing to-do list.
The Temple of Literature was founded by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong in 1070 as a place to worship Confucius – there is a pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity as well as statues of the wise man and his disciples – but became Vietnam’s first university six years later.
The pool sits at the heart of the sacred complex, with sprays of blooming waterlilies, and the dark water provides a mirror that reflects the ornate gates with arched doors and windows.
Only the sons of noblemen were initially allowed to enroll but in 1442 the rules changed with gifted students from the region invited to Hanoi to study literature, poetry and the principles of Confucianism.
To keep track of the graduates Emperor Ly Thanh Tong asked tablets be created to recorded the names, home towns and academic achievements of each scholar with 82 or the 116 stelae still standing.
The Temple of Literature is still a focus for today’s students with university graduates dutifully visiting in cap and gown to pose for photographs at this place that first allowed Vietnam’s young people to receive more education.
This is just one place in the country to spy traditional Vietnamese architecture, with the pavilions meticulously maintained with great attention to the intricate features that define this style of building, and visitors should take the time to take in the ornate details.
Vintage shutters painted regal shades of red, weathered terracotta tiles arranged in neat lines crowning each pavilion, carved panels serving as room dividers, green enamel tiles providing peek-a-boo holes in a wall, wrought-iron gates, golden accents, wise words written on columns, courtyards to catch the breezes, rooftop dragons guarding structures.
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The Temple of Literature is still a place for locals to worship with heavy bronze urns holding sticks burning incense and the smoke from candles wafting through the pagodas to dance through rays of light finding gaps in the ceiling.
And, when you do visit this landmark, call around mealtime and retreat to Koto – it means “know one, teach one” – across the street for a meal or cool drink at one of the first charities to train underprivileged Hanoi kids to work in hospitality.
“Hanoi’s most revered temple complex, the Temple of Literature, or Van Mieu, is both Vietnam’s principal Confucian sanctuary and its historical centre of learning. The temple is also one of the few remnants of the Ly kings’ original city and retains a strong sense of harmony despite reconstruction and embellishment over the nine hundred years since its dedication in 1070.”
Rough Guide website