After visiting the Imperial Citadel, and considering its proximity to the complex of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum we should have probably headed straight there, however we were aware that we would not be able to find a restaurant where we could have lunch close to that site and instead walked towards the Temple of Literature.
Lunch at Nha Hang Koto Van Mieu
Restaurant Nha Hang Koto Van Mieu seemed to be a popular lunch spot with locals and tourists alike and is conveniently located next to the temple of Literature. The food was tasty and the menu included plenty of options for children too. Chris and I went for a Vietnamese dish, while Jerome felt less brave and had spaghetti. The prices were slightly higher than what we had expected for a Vietnamese lunch, but then a part of the bill goes to a non-profit organisation providing career training to disadvantaged children, so it is worthwhile supporting with a little extra money.
Visiting the Temple of Literature
Of all the sights we visited during our stay in Hanoi, the Temple of Literature is the one that still sticks in our mind as the most beautiful. It is one of the rare examples of well preserved architecture and a must visit for anyone exploring Hanoi. The picturesque temple dates back to 1076 when it was built as the first university in Vietnam and was dedicated to Confucius, therefore it was a actually a place of study rather than a religious landmark as some visitors might assume. Originally the university accepted only the most privileged, aristocrats, the elite and members of the royal families to study there. It was only 400 years later that a more egalitarian approach was adopted and the brightest students from all over Vietnam were allowed to study the principles of the Confucius and his texts.
Entering through the Great Gate
The temple buildings are enclosed by a brick wall are arranged in five courtyards, its layout is copied from the temple at Confucius’ birthplace. After buying our tickets we stepped onto the temple’s ground through the Great Gate, guarded by a tiger and dragon. Please note that you might be required to cover your shoulders to enter some of the buildings inside the complex. A group of local school children followed us on the central path, which was once solely reserved for the king. Ahead we saw a gate much less opulent and basic in structure to the first one. The first and second courtyards were peaceful with ancient trees and lawns, a haven for the scholars to relax away from the bustling streets of Hanoi.
The Well of Heavenly Clarity
The Well of Heavenly Clarity a large pond with lotus and koi carp is the main feature of the third courtyard and my favourite part of the temple. The lotus flowers were mostly gone and the seedpods had already formed. Jerome and I watched the fish peeking out of the water, waiting to be fed by the tourists.
At either side of the next square stand two halls housing stone steles with names of the most successful graduates on top of stone turtles. Turtles are one of the nation’s four holy creatures, besides a dragon, unicorn and phoenix. We would come across turtles on many other occasions during our visit in Vietnam, as we had earlier that day at the Imperial Citadel.
Confucius and His Disciples
The central building in courtyard number four is dedicated to Confucius and his disciples and they are for many the heart and highlight of the Temple of Literature. The sanctuary houses an altar with statues of the four men, with offerings of fruit, drink cans and engulfed in the thick plume of incense. In front of the altars we found a crowd of Vietnamese deep in prayer. The stunning structure was painted in red lacquer and adorned with gold.
It was also the first time for us to discover the little temple scenes among the bonsai trees. Figures of people, monks and animals were hidden among the roots and rocks of the twisted trees. A little fantasy world, not unlike a dolls house, that should appeal tremendously to children, especially to younger ones. Jerome admired the animal figures and was sad to find that one of them was missing its ears and nose.
The Imperial Academy
The last square is the largest and used to be the home of the “Imperial Academy”. Upon walking through the beautiful gate with its painted red and gold doors we entered the Tai Hoc with many its buildings that served as classrooms and dormitories – It also houses a large drum and bell tower, features found in many sacred Vietnamese buildings. Inside the main building we found a museum with relics of famous students and the second floor honours the three monarchs who contributed to the foundation of the university by displaying their life-sized statues.
Time for a Break
After taking in so much history we sat down on the cool steps, the heat and humidity was definitely getting to us then, and we watched the tourists and locals with a bottle of refreshing water in hand before leaving the temple for the short walk back to the Ho Chi Minh Complex our last tourist site on a busy day strolling the city.
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