The Stone steles in the Temple of Literature Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam include 82 steles which record the royal examinations of Le and Mac dynasties (1442-1779). All steles are put on stone tortoises’ back to represent everlasting national quintessence and reflect historical and cultural values of Vietnam through 300 years.
In 1484, King Le Thanh Tong gave an order to erect the first 10 steles for the royal examinations held in 1442, 1448, 1463, 1466, 1469, 1472, 1475, 1478, 1481 and 1484 under Le So Dynasty. However, now only 7 steles remain. In next years, Le So Dynasty had 5 steles erected for the royal examinations held in 1487, 1496, 1502, 1511 and 1514. Under Mac Dynasty, only 2 steles were erected for the royal examinations held in 1518 (under Le So Dynasty) and 1529 because of civil war.
Under Le Trung Hung Dynasty, the royal examinations were restored and hold regularly. In 1653, Le Trung Hung Dynasty had the most number of steles erected in Temple of Literature with 25 steles for the royal examinations held between 1554 and 1652. Then in 1717, 21 steles were erected for the royal examinations held between 1656 and 1712. With two large courses of stele erection and next regular stele erections, Le Trung Hung Dynasty had most steles erected in Temple of Literature (68/82).
Under Tay Son (1788 – 1802) and Nguyen (1802 – 1945) dynasties, capital city was removed to Phu Xuan – Hue and steles were not erected in Van Mieu (Hanoi) any more. Nguyen Dynasty gave an order to erect steles in Van Mieu (Hue) from the royal examination held in 1822.
All the 82 steles are of the same model: the slab is flat with an arched pediment and tortoise-shaped base; the tortoise is rather big and looks strong; the steles are of different sizes. The steles are also unique in terms of their construction: stone was carefully selected, designed, decorated, and engraved with texts. This work must have required extraordinary patience and skill as it was done entirely by hand.