The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 under Emperor Ly Thanh Tong’s reign, in honor of Confucius, his followers and Chu Van An, a prominent figure in Vietnamese education. In 1076, it became Vietnam’s first university, initially serving noble family members and later becoming more egalitarian with admissions, opening to talented students, irrespective of background.
The Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture—made almost entirely of wood and tiles. It is one of Hanoi’s most picturesque tourist attractions, and is depicted on the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong note.
The temple is divided into five courtyards, each decorated with century-old trees that have witnessed the ups and downs of Hanoi’s history. Within the premises, you will find pagodas, altars, ponds, gardens and tombstones. Stelae erected atop turtle statues depict the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars.
If you visit the temple at the beginning of the year or in May, essentially during exam season, you will see numerous students coming just to rub the heads of turtles—an act believed to bring them luck to pass their exams. They also crowd around the altars, praying for luck. After exam season, you will find many students taking their graduation photos here.