ATTRACTIONS - Temple of Literature

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Van Mieu, HanoiVan Mieu, HanoiVan Mieu, HanoiA rare glimpse at Hanoi’s 11th-century roots, Van Mieu has been tinkered up a bit over the past ten centuries, but is surely one of the city’s and country’s more important cultural landmarks. Built as a temple to worship Confucius by King Ly Thanh Ton in 1070, it’s also the site of Vietnam’s first university. It’s a lovely spot to get out of the streets’ honking and hassle and enjoy lazy walks under the shade of banyans, mango trees and frangipani.

Entering from the south Van Mieu Gate, you walk into five walled courtyards modeled after Confucius’ birthplace in Qufu, China. The first two are filled with lawns. The third is the site of the double-roofed Khue Van Cac Gate. Visitors tend to stop here, looking over the rectangular ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’ pond rimmed on either side by 82 stone tablets atop tortoises, each inscribed by over 1000 graduates from the university. The next courtyard has a gift shop, and a ceremonial hall that often hosts traditional-music concerts – I bought a single-string danh bau (zither) from a musician here in 1995.

Find your way behind to the remade site of the university itself (originally called Quoc Tu Giam, then Thai Hoc Vien after the 15th century). The French called it, dismissively, the ‘Crow Pagoda’ for all the birds in the trees. Now there’s exhibits inside and a bell and drum house at the east end. (This reconstruction opened in 2002, part of Hanoi’s preparations for the city-wide 1000th-birthday party in 2010.)

Consider timing your visit to start or end with the $4 breakfast buffet at Koto (59 Van Mieu St; open 7am-10.30pm Tue-Sat, 7am-5pm Mon) across the street to the east. And also walk across to the small ‘Van Mieu Lake’ just south of the Van Mieu entrance.

→ Note: Some scholars argue ‘Temple of Literature’ is a false translation, and something like ‘Temple of Culture’ or ‘Temple of Confucian Culture’ is more appropriate. It was originally built to worship Confucius alone, at a time when scholars didn’t differentiate between culture, literature, philosophy – ‘it’s all good, study it.’

Quoc Tu Giam St, btwn Van Mieu & Ton Duc Thang Sts; admission US$0.30; open Apr-Sept: 7.30am-5.30pm, Oct-Mar: 7.30am-5pm