Hanoi Temple of Literature (Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam) is a top most abundant and diversified complex of relics of Hanoi. It located at south of old Thang Long under Ly dynasty. Previously, Temple of Literature was to place stelae inscribed names of scholars achieving doctoral degree (refer to Vietnamese Trang Nguyen or First Doctoral) and educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. Today, it is an attraction for both domestic and foreign visitors and also a place to grant presents for talented students or for bachelor candidate to ask for “good luck” prior to their university exam.
The scope of Constellation of Literature pavilion in Temple of Literature, seen from outside of Imperial Academy, under reign of Ly – Tran dynasty has not been found yet since historical materials were burn or brought to Yen Kinh (today Beijing).
However, the Imperial Academy under Le dynasty was described by Le Quy Don in the book “Jian Wen Xiao Lu” (Miscellaneous Records of Things Heard and Seen) as follows: “Imperial Academy consists of three compartments with cross walls paved by bronze tiles. Teaching building located in the east and west with fourteen compartments at both sides. Classrooms offered three rows of twenty five compartments each with two students of each compartments. Entire architecture of current Temple of Literature is early architecture of Nguyen dynasty. The campus is surrounded with four walls constructed of Bat Trang brick.
Temple of Literature’s layout is arranged symmetrically at each section and layer under North-South axis, which emulates overall planning of Literature Temple worshiping Confucius at his hometown in Sangdong, China. However, the scope here is simpler and follows national traditional method of art.
In front of Literature Temple lies a large lake known as Van Chuong Lake, formerly called Lake Tai. In the middle of lake locates Kim Chau mound which previously had a tower for sightseeing.
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 of Literature Temple was constructed in three-entrance gate style on which carved three old Chinese characters meaning Temple of Literature Gate.
The interior of the site is divided into five courtyards with separating walls and leading gates among each others.
First courtyard: The first courtyard 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: extending from Great Middle to the Constellation of Literature pavilion (Khue Van Cac), a harmonious architectural work built in 1805 by Nguyen Van Thanh (Governor of northern citadel). The pavilion is built on four, white-washed stone stilts (85x85cm) with pretty wooden structures. The upper storey has four round doors with wooden carved corridor and roof supporting bars. Tile roof was overlaid with two layers forming eight-roof building with flat roof edge and surface. The tower is eight-roof square ones with shining sun-shaped windows at each four tower walls. Image of Literature Constellation pavilion demonstrates all stars shining over the earth where is symbolized by the square of Thien Quang. The building is attached with the beauty of twinkling star Khue, the star symbolizes for Literature. This place is used to enjoy literature works overtime. To the sides of the Constellation of Literature pavilion are the Crystallization of Letters (Suc Van) gate and Magnificence of Letters (Bi Van) gate which leads to steles of doctoral laureates.
Third courtyard: locating Well of Heavenly Clarity (Thien Quang Tinh) in square shape. Its other sides stand stone steles of doctoral laureates, which inscribed names of First Doctors, Second Laureates, Second-rank Doctors and Doctors. Currently there still exist 82 doctoral stelae of examinations from 1442 to 1779.
Forth courtyard: is the centre and principle architecture of the Literature Temple, consisting of two symmetrically magnificent buildings which are the House for Ceremonies (Bai Duong) outside and the Upper Palace (Thuong Cung) inside
Fifth courtyard: locates Khai Thanh shrine worshiping Confucius’s parents, which links to the forth courtyard by Khai Thanh gate. This section has been rebuilt recently.
Inside the Temple of Literature houses statues of Confucius and The four Saints of Confucianism (Nhan Tu, Tang Tu, Tu Tu, Manh Tu). The Confucius temple has two pairs of flamingos riding tortoise’s back, which is typical image of Vietnamese temples, tombs, pagodas and shrines symbolizing the harmony of heaven and earth, ying and yang. Flamingo is the symbol of the essence and noble. Legend has it that turtle and flamingos are very close couple. Turtle represents for animal kind living in water that can crawl while flamingo symbolizes animal kind living on land that can fly. When rain makes flooding a large area, turtle can help flamingo to pass by flooding area to dry place. Conversely, when it is drought, flamingo helps turtle to arrive water area. This demonstrates fidelity and support spirit in times of troubles or tribulation between good friends.
Today, Constellation of Literature pavilion in Temple of Literature has been recognized as a symbol of Hanoi city.