Friday, January 19, 2018

The Temple of Literature, Hanoi

The Temple of Literature is basically what is left of the Imperial Academy created to educate Vietnam’s elite in medieval times. This is where they held Vietnam’s civil service examinations and I can’t help thinking that it mirrored Chinese imperial examination system. This educational institution was dedicated to Confucius and a couple of sages and scholars and functioned from 1076 till 1779. I would say it had a pretty good run.

When I started writing this post it was difficult for me to figure out which photos have been taken in which part of the temple, so I ended up drawing a plan shown below to make the post more visual and somewhat structured.


Images below show the main gate of the temple. I am not an expert on traditional Vietnamese architecture, but it felt like there is something distinctly Vietnamese about it.


Since the temple is surrounded by walls and its courtyards are separated from each-other by walls as well, there are quite a few gates. They are all different and well-integrated with the surrounding gardens. The image below left shows the Dai Tai gate. It is one of the side gates located in the first courtyard. The image below centre shows a bit of the first courtyard and the gate leading to the second courtyard. Another gate is shown in the image below right. It is called the Khue Van pavilion and it provides a passage from the Second to the Third Courtyard.


The temple gardens feature a number of ponds. Images below show two examples. The image on the left shows one of the ponds in the First Courtyard and the image on the right shows the Thien Quang well in the Third Courtyard.


Below are images of the Fourth Courtyard featuring trees growing in large concrete planters.


The focal point of the whole complex is the main hall of the temple located in the Fifth Courtyard. Below are images showing some of its features. The rightmost image shows the altar to Confucius.


Finally, let’s make this post relevant to the topic of bonsai. Below are some examples of potted trees photographed in various areas of the temple.


Images below show larger potted trees located in the Fourth Courtyard.


What can I say about the potted trees in the temple? They all display some degree of styling. None of them are terribly refined, but given the context, they probably don’t have to be. To me they provide historical context for bonsai by linking Oriental style potted plants with penjing.

Overall, the Temple of Literature was a great place to visit. It taught me that cultivation of styled potted plants was an important scholarly activity in Vietnam.

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