The historic Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature-Imperial Academy) in Hanoi hosted a special ceremony on February 25 to receive certificates recognising the site as a special national heritage and its 82 stelae as World Documentary Heritage.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan and a representative from UNESCO presented the certificates to Hanoi authorities and the Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam Centre for Cultural and Scientific Activities.

The ceremony included an enactment of the ritual to honour laureates of royal examinations who returned to their home villages to report to ancestors about their academic accomplishment, a screening of a documentary film about the temple, and a musical and dance performance.

The Quoc Tu Giam and Van Mieu complex was recognised as a special national heritage site last October. The 82 stelae (the stone slabs inscribed with the names of laureates in court exams held from the 15 th to the 18 th century) at the complex were recognised as part of the World Documentary Heritage by UNESCO in March 2010.

The 82 stelae were a focus of a conservation workshop held earlier the same day by the Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam Centre for Cultural and Scientific Activities. Participants in the seminar expressed their concern for the deterioration of the stelae being brought on both by exposure to the elements and by people.

The structure covering the stelae are becoming dilapidated, and the stelae themselves are often touched or rubbed or even sat upon, the seminar heard. There is a long tradition of high school and university students rubbing the heads of the tortoises supporting the stelae for luck around exam time.

Among measures discussed to better protect the stelae, participants favoured building umpired glass perditions around them, although some felt that would be inconsistent with the historic, garden-like setting of the temple.

The Centre for Cultural and Scientific Activities has currently set up cordons and assigned guard to protect the stelae as a temporary measure.

The centre has undertaken efforts to preserve the temple setting, cleaning up the grounds and garden, improving water drainage, installing lighting system, and expanding inner walkway.

Built in 1070 as a Confucians temple, the temple served as the country’s first university, educating royalty, mandarins and other members of the elite.

The Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (Complete History of the Great Viet) records that the Temple of Literature was built during the reign of King Le Thanh Tong who established the tradition of carving the named of the laureates on stelae atop tortoises. The practice dates to 1484, but of the 116 built between 1142 and 1778, only 82 remain.-VNA