While most people who are conscious of Vietnamese culture know at least a little bit about Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam – The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which is the first university in Vietnam, little attention has been paid to another significant temple of literature in Hue – the ancient capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty. Established under the Nguyen Dynasty, Van Mieu Hue, also called Van Thanh Hue, is the worshipping place dedicated to Confucius and scholars of Confucianism in Vietnam. Holding such an important historical and cultural value, it is definitely a must-visit that your Hue tours should not ignore.
“Van Mieu Hue” is nestled along Huong River
Location and history
“Van Mieu” – Hue Temple of Literature is located along the bank of the poetic Huong River (Perfume River), belonging to An Ninh Village, which is to the west of Hue Imperial Citadel. Also called “Van Thanh”, “Van Mieu” the shortened name of “Van Thanh Mieu” (the temple of the “God” of temperature) – a temple worshipping Confucius – an ancient Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher who established Confucianism teachings that are followed by almost Oriental nations in the past. In all oriental countries and regions that have followed Confucianism, there are the temples of literature to worship this “God”. And Hue – the ancient capital of Vietnam where Confucianism is one of the three biggest religions is not an exception.
In 1808, Emperor Gia Long decided to build this temple on a hill in the west of Huong River. The national “university” was also located here until 1908 when it was moved to the citadel. The construction of the Temple of Literature was started in April and finished in August 1808.
A gate in Hue Temple of Literature
During the reign of King Gia Long, the Nguyen Dynasty only held “thi huong” (the first-degree examination at the provincial level) so there was no stele of doctors built here. Since the reign of King Minh Mang, “thi hoi” (the second-degree exam at regional level) and “thi dinh” (the highest-degree exam at the national level) were organized, so the steles started to appear. The steles that inscribed with the name of the scholars and doctors of these exams were set up in the Temple of Literature from 1831 to 1919 – the year of the last “thi hoi” exam.
Nowadays, travelers in their Hue tours to this temple might feel that it is not similar to what history says because the temple has undergone 7 times of restoration and reconstruction under the reign of different kings. It was severely damaged in 1947 when the French colonizers recaptured Hue and garrisoned here. At that time, the tablets on the altars were moved to and preserved in Thien Mu Pagoda.
A Hue day tour will give tourists the opportunity to get to know more about ancient architecture of Vietnam in particular and oriental countries in general. All the works in Hue Temple of Literature were constructed in a square space with each side of 160-meter length, surrounded by a rampart. The temple was once the complex of more than 30 small and big sites, including the steles of doctors, the temple of literature – the worshipping place of Confucius, “Tu Phoi” – his 4 best disciples, and “Thap Triet”, Dong Vu & Tay Vu – the worshipping place of the Confucian deities, “Than Tru” – the kitchen, “To Cong”, etc. All the buildings are made of ironwood and other specious materials. Everything from the design, decoration, and interiors gives visitors a majestic and literary vibe.
Steles of doctors
The steles of doctors are the highlight of the Temple of Literature, making it among the top destinations in Hue. Being formed in 2 parallel rows in the opposite sides of the courtyard, 32 carved blue stone turtles were set up to honor Confucian talents and encourage citizen’s study. The steles in Hue are not as big as those in Hanoi but they are more uniformly distributed. The name and birthplace of 239 mandarins of “thi Hoi” examinations under the Nguyen Dynasty are inscribed here. A lot of Vietnamese people take Hue tours for family to the Temple of Literature not only for a simple visit but also to wish for themselves or their children to succeed in their study and work. People tend to rub the stone turtles’ heads, believing that it could give them luck.
Hue Temple of Literature has become a vestige that marks the most prosperous period of Confucianism in Vietnam when the Nguyen Dynasty used its teachings as a key means to establish the dominion over the whole nation. Even though Confucianism is no longer a national religion, the ethical codes of Confucian followers, altogether with the traditional cultural identity, has created a solid foundation for the spiritual life of all Vietnamese people nowadays. With its exceptional significance in culture, Hue Temple of Literature is undeniably a top place to visit in Hue tours.