History of Ngoc Son Temple
The temple was built on Ngoc Son Islet in the 18th century on the center of the “Lake of the Returned Sword” (Hoan Kiem Lake), and is dedicated to the national hero Tran Hung Dao, who defeated Mongols invaders in the 13th century, and the scholar Van Xuong.
Tran Hung Dao statue
People had called the islet Tuong Nhi (Elephant Ears) before King Ly Thai To moved the capital to Thang Long (Rising Dragon) in 1010.
He later renamed the island to Ngoc Tuong and until the Tran Dynasty it was eventually changed to Ngoc Son. On the islet, there was a temple erected in honor of the heroic martyrs who sacrificed in the war against Mongol army. However, it was then burned down in 1786 by King Le Chieu Thong and rebuilt to be Khanh Thuy Palace.
At the end of the Le Dynasty, the palace was destroyed. In 1843, a charity called Tin Trai built in the old ground a new temple called Ngoc Son.
Ngoc Son temple is situated on Jade Islet in Hoan Kiem lake. The temple is a combination of different structures, including Outer Nghi Mon (Ceremonial Gate), Thap But (Pen Obelisk ), inner Nghi Mon, Dai Nghien (Ink Slab Tower), the The Huc (Light of Dawn) bridge, Dac Nguyet (Moon Gazing) gate, Tran Ba (Tidal Wave Guarding) pavilion, Tien Te (Front-Worshipping) Chamber, Trung Duong (Central Hall), Hau Cung (Back Chambers), Ta Huu Vu (Left and Right Chambers), Kinh Thu (Holy Book) Chamber, Hau Cung (Tortoise Chamber).
Outer Nghi Mon
The Outer Nghi Mon is made of brick with its two pillars holding a large fish scale roof. On the outer side of Nghi Mon, two big Chinese characters Phuc (Happiness) and Loc (Gift of Luck) are painted in red in the facade of the Gate, representing wishes of fertility and prosperity.
The yard after Nghi Mon is where the Pen Obelisk (Thap But) was erected on a base of four-meter high and 12m in diameter. According to the epitaph, the base is called Doc Ton (Uniqueness) representing a mountain in commemoration of the fallen combatants during the war of the Lords Le and Trinh in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Dai Nghien (Ink Slab Tower)
The obelisk is divided into five levels and topped with the representation of a brush pen. On the northern side of the first three levels are three Chinese characters "Ta Thanh Thien" meaning "Writing on the clear blue sky”. The Pen Obelisk is a symbol of literary spirit, standing on a “mountain” epitomizing the fighting spirit of Trinh lords and their soldiers. At the foot of Doc Ton “mountain”, there is also a shrine of the mountain god.
The Inner Nghi Mon next to the Pen Obelisk leads to Dai Nghien (Ink Slab Tower). The slab is made of a mass of blue rock sculptured in the shape of a hollowed-out peach cut in half. Across the slab is the The Huc bridge leading to the temple.
The Huc means "welcoming the morning sunlight ”. The Huc bridge is red-painted representing happiness and preventing ghosts going into the temple The name has inspired poets and painters alike to create memorable art works through the centuries. The Huc bridge leads to the fourth gate called Dac Nguyet gate.
The Huc (Light of Dawn) bridge leading to Ngoc Son temple.
Dac Nguyet means "Moon Gazing". The Dac Nguyet gate carries the philosophy of Taoism. This is a fairly solid brick structure with 2 storeys and 8 curved ridge lines on the roof. Inside the gate is the main architecture of the temple.
Tran Ba means ”Guarding the Tidal Waves”. The pavilion is located in front of the main temple to shield it from waves, wind or impure spirit from the lake.
A row of five chambers is next to Tran Ba pavilion. Ta vu, Huu vu (Left and Right Chambers) are adjacent to the main architecture of the temple. Ta Vu door looks out over the Dac Nguyet gate. Huu vu door faces the West, opposite to the Sword lake.
Kinh Thu (the Holy Book) chamber consists of 3 compartments with the floor tiled with Bat Trang brick.
Hau Cung or the Back Chamber (Tortoise Chamber) contains 3 compartments. This is the place where the preserved body of Ho Guom tortoise died on June 2, 1967 is displayed.
Ngoc Son Temple, recognized as cultural – historical heritage site in 1980, still preserve valuable relics from different historical eras, including the horizontal lacquered boards, carved wooden blocks for printing books on literature, medicine and linguistics. On the walls and pillars there are parallel sentences, large letters and poems written by famous Confucian scholars who came here as sightseers.