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What to see in Hanoi - Part 2


The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu)

The Temple of Literature is an obligatory stop on any Hanoi tour. It's usually packed, but never so much that there isn't room to stroll around. It's a good site, but if you're not much for culture, it needn't be near the top of your list of things to do.

This is the site of Vietnam's first national university. The 'temple' moniker attests to how inextricably linked learning and religion were back in the year 1070 when it was built by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong. In this case, it was actually a temple dedicated to the cult of Confucius, breaking the monopoly over education previously held by Buddhism. At almost 1,000 years old, it's one of the few remaining examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture still standing in Hanoi.



For contemporary Vietnamese, it functions as a shrine to Confucius himself, whose influence is still very much a part of Vietnamese culture, and it serves as a testament to Vietnam's long history of striving for educational excellence. It was initially reserved for Mandarins and high-ranking civil servants, but later outstanding students of no particular rank were also educated here.

The Temple of Literature is set on a large, rectangular complex encompassing five walled courtyards connected by gateways, among green gardens and human-made reflecting pools.

The first area of interest is the Well of Heavenly Clarity beside which there are 82 tortoise-carrying stellar, (there were originally 117), which list the names, places of birth and achievements of graduate students who accomplished exceptional results during the Le Dynasty. One can't fail to notice that the names on some of the stellar have been scratched out -- these are scholars who subsequently met with some sort of disgrace or royal disapproval, and were expunged from the record.

Each of the buildings had a specific purpose and meaning, though some have been given over to exhibits charting the history of the temple. The pamphlet handed out to visitors on arrival is fairly helpful, and blissfully free of grammatical errors (befitting a sight dedicated to education) but in order to really get a sense of what you're looking at, a guide is highly recommended. We booked an excellent English-speaking guide at the gate for 80,000 dong (regardless of the size of the group) plus a tip at the end.

Some of the temple is comparatively new. The housing in the back was lost in a fire a few decades ago, and the current structures are of more modern vintage in the spirit of the old buildings. There is also a statue dedicated to Chu Van An (after whom at least one street in every Vietnamese city is named) who is considered the greatest scholar in Vietnam's history -- the bronze likeness dates back to only 2003.

At the rear of the gardens is a large sanctuary with an impressive Confucian statue, and in the forecourt of this sanctuary traditional music is played when a sufficiently large crowd gathers.

The complex backs onto Nguyen Thai Hoc St, but the entrance is on Quoc Tu Giam. The temple makes for a good sanctuary from both the touts and the traffic.


The One Pillar Pagoda (formally Dien Huu tu or Lien Hoa Dai)

Another popular stop on the tour, masses line up to climb the steps to the small shrine within the gazebo-like structure. For most Western visitors it may be enough to take a glance at it as they leave the Ho Chi Minh Museum



Originally built in 1049 of wood, the pagoda was vandalised and burned by the French in 1954 as they retreated from Hanoi, only to be rebuilt the following year. The pagoda was built by Emperor Ly Thai To during the Ly Dynasty. Legend states that the Emperor had a dream that he was given a son by the goddess of mercy, Quan An, while seated on a lotus flower. Soon afterwards, the Emperor married a peasant girl and had a son. The Emperor built the pagoda to honour the goddess, and it contains a statue of her and many sculptures of lotus flowers. Built over a lotus pond, the One Pillar Pagoda is extremely popular with childless couples and is also believed to have miraculous healing powers. During the summer, the surrounding pond is covered in lotus blossoms.


The Flag Tower of Hanoi (Vietnamese: Cot Co Hanoi)

The Flag Tower of Hanoi (Vietnamese: Cot Co Hanoi) is a tower in Hanoi, Vietnam, which is one of the symbols of the city and part of the Hanoi Citadel, a World Heritage Site. Its height is 33.4 m (41 m with the flag). It is an attractive site to visit.



Flag Tower is composed of three tiers and a pyramid-shaped tower with a spiral staircaise leading to the top inside it. The first tier is 42.5 m wide and 3.1 m high; the second - 25 m wide and 3.7 m high and the third - 12.8 m wide and 5.1 m high. The second tier has four doors. The words "Nghenh Huc" (English: "To welcome dawn's sunlight") are inscribed on the eastern door; the words "Ha Quang" ("To reflect light") - on the western door and "Huong Minh" ("Directed to the sunlight") - on the southern door. The tower is lighted by 36 flower-shaped and 6 fan-shaped windows. The National Flag of Vietnam is on top of the tower.

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