Quoc Tu Giam: Ancient Palace of Literature in Vietnam

In this series on ancient universities we now go to Hanoi in Vietnam to visit the Palace of Literature. Just the name makes it sound like a paradise for all students and scholars. Quoc Tu Giam was built in 1070 with the intention to provide a learning center for the elite on the teachings of Confucius.

A period of Chinese occupation had just come to an end after lasting almost one thousand years and the building of the Palace of Literature was an expression of national identity and pride. It continued as an institute of Confucian teachings for seven hundred years.

The palace is arranged around five courtyards with a path through the center for the king. The gardens are an oasis of calm intended as a place for students to relax with trees and greenery surrounded by a stone wall. The whole design reproduces the birthplace of Confucius in Qufu, China and two of the great pavilions once contained altars to the students of the master.

The 82 stone stelae are a significant feature of the palace. These record the names of those students who achieved their doctorates in the years from 1484 to 1780. The pavilion in which these are kept surrounds the third courtyard which has at its center the Well of Heavenly Clarity.

Extensive restoration work has been done on the palace in 1920 and 1954 after it was seriously damaged by French bombs in 1947. There is now a museum there which contains various scholarly artefacts such as pens and ink-wells. The Palace of Literature is an excellent historic site well worth a visit and an exemplary example of the architecture of the Ly dynasty.

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