The temples and pagodas in Hanoi are unique and varied, some simple, others elaborate. A temple familiar to many tourists is the Temple of Literature on Van Mieu Street. Built in 1070 to honor Confucius, The large temple compound remains in pristine condition. It is also the site of Vietnam’s first university where thousands of scholars graduated until the university was moved to Hue in 1802. Inside the compound, past the Four Pillars of Quoc Tu Giam, recognizing talent and Virtue, 82 Tortise Tablets hold the names of over 1,000 scholars, their paces of birth and their achievements. Flags, lanterns, and giant bells adorn the inner walls.

On the other extreme of size, the Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda, on Chua Mot Cot Street is also popular with tourists. Built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049 after a dream, the pagoda resembles a lotus rising from the water. The lotus is a symbol or purity and the pagoda’s Vietnamese name, Chua Mot Col, means Long Lasting Purity. The French, frustrated at losing the war with Vietnam, destroyed the temple in 1954 but the Vietnamese rebuilt it a year later.

Said to be the most beautiful pagoda in Hanoi, Kim Lien Pagoda is located in Quang An Village. The pagoda consists of three buildings and is noted for its elaborate wooden sculptures, engravings, columns and statues. A very intricate wooden gate sets the structure apart from most gate supports of brick or concrete. Built in 1631 to honor Princess Tu Hoa who visited the area to teach the people how to grow mulberries, raise silkworms, and to weave silk. The setting for the pagoda is strikingly beautiful and peaceful, the perfect location for quiet and contemplation.

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda, located at  50 Ly Quoc Su Street, is dedicated to the great Buddhist monk Nguyen Chi Thanh. Not only was he a teacher of medicine and pharmacy, but also an exceptional worker in bronze. After he cured King Ly Than Tong of a deadly illness, the king built him a large house and courtyard where he could teach and cast items in bronze, mostly bells. His name was changed to Ly Quoc Su, which means great monk and teacher of the nation. When the monk died in 1141, his home was torn down and the temple to honor him, built in its place.

Emperor Ly Thi To, founder of Hanoi, built Quan Than Temple in honor of Taoist deity Tran Vu. The temple is one of four erected to guard and protect the city. Serpents and turtles are symbols of power in the Taoist tradition and many carvings of them are on display. The showpiece of the temple is a 9 ton black bronze statue of the deity that stands 13 feet tall. The French, seldom interested in another country’s culture, erroneously named the Taoist temple the “Temple of the Big Buddha.” Many students of the martial arts come here to train and to learn, and, stored within the buildings, are a large collection of poems dating from the 17th century. The temple is located in Quan Thanh Ward and is a major tourist attraction.

One of the most interesting and attractive pagodas is Thay Phuong Pagoda in Yen Village on the edge of Hanoi. Built in the 8th century the pagoda houses many masterpieces of sculpture and engraving. The gate, near a lovely shade tree, is reached after climbing 239 stone steps. Several different regimes have rebuilt and restored the site including the Tay Son regime in 1794. The three buildings inside symbolize the three forces governing the world in Buddhist and Confucian teachings: heaven, earth, and all things closest to man. All the buildings have double roofs. These roofs have their own meanings and the four sides of the roofs represent the sun, moon stars, and deities while the total of eight sides represent the eight signs of the Sacred Octagon.

Vietnam is not short of dragons, turtles, and horses. In 1010 King Ly Thai ordered the transfer of the capitol from Hue to Hanoi. For protection he sent thousands of workers to build a citadel. No matter how hard they worked, the walls kept falling down and sinking in the soft soil. Ly Thai was at a loss. Not even his best engineers could solve the problem. As he sat one day to think, the apparition of a white horse appeared. The horse trotted across the land leaving footprints in the soil. The King built the walls of his citadel on the hoof impressions. The wall held and to honor the horse the King built Bach Ma Temple. The temple has suffered many disasters over the years including flooding but still stands today at 76 Hang Buam Street.

Emperor Hung-Vuong had his own problems and was helpless in defending Vietnam from the An invaders. Every army he sent out was defeated. Finally he sent messengers into the country saying he needed every good man to help defend the homeland. In the village of Phu-Dong lived an old couple with a sickly three-year old son. The boy could neither sit nor speak. He suddenly sat up and spoke when the messenger arrived. He told the messenger to return to the emperor and to build him a large iron horse, armor, and a long lance. The emperor had the built and returned to the boy who had grown into a large man within weeks. He strapped on the armor, grabbed the lance, and mounted the iron horse. He led the Vietnamese army against the An invaders and personally killed all the generals. Vietnam was saved. The boy then rode to a mountain and disappeared. Emperor Hung-Vuong thought God had sent the boy so he gave him the title of Heavenly King of Phu-Dong and had a temple erected in his name. The temple is in Phu Dong.

Anyone who knows anything about Vietnam know the Trung sisters, valiant female warriors who fought against southern Han aggressors. Although they did not succeed, they are still remembered for their heroic deeds. Legend says they were turned to stone, after being lost in the Hac River, and later washed up near the village of Dong Nhan. Every night they glowed from anger, lighting up the darkness so in 1142 King Ly Anh Tong had them moved and Dong Nanh Temple built to honor them. Statues of many great and imposing warriors reside in the temple today, including the Trung sisters. The temple was originally built along the Red River but was later moved to central Hanoi in the Dong Nhan Precient.

Of course, Hanoi has many more pagodas and temples, some small and simple, and others large and impressive and these are just a small sampling. All are interesting and worth a visit.



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