Ngoc Son Temple was constructed in the 19th century. Initially it was called Ngoc Son Pagoda (玉山), then changed into Ngoc Son Temple as it worships God Wenchang, the star sent home the scientific literature and worships Tran Hung Dao, a hero defeating Mongolian enemy in the 13th century.
Ngoc Son Island was formerly known as Tuong Nhi (elephant ear). When King Ly Thai To moved his capital to Thang Long, the island was named Ngoc Tuong and not until Tran dynasty that it was renamed Ngoc Son. Here was erected a temple to worship heroic martyrs who sacrificed in resistance against Mongolian enemy.
Later the temple collapsed. Until Le Huu Vinh times (1735 – 1739), Lord Trinh Giang built Thuy Khanh palace and embanked two mounds on the eastern bank of Ngoc Son and called Dao Tai and Ngoc Boi mounts. Later in Le dynasty, the palace was destroyed by Le Chieu Thong. A charity named Tin Trai established a temple called Ngoc Son Pagoda on premise of old Thuy Khanh palace.
In the third under reign of Thieu Tri, a charity group removed the bell tower, rebuilt main sanctuary halls and compartments at both sides, placed Wenchang statue for worshiping and changed the name into Ngoc Son Temple.
In term of architecture, Ngoc Son Temple is a chain of houses in shape of “Tam” character, consisting forecourt, main sanctuary and back palace. The forecourt is to worship Quan Cong while the main sanctuary worships Wenchang and the back palace worships Tran Hung Dao. Besides, the temple also worships Buddha Amitabha. This obviously represents the three-religion concept of ancient Vietnamese people.
The main temple consists of two sub-temples linking to each other. The first one directing towards the northern worships Notre Wenchang. It is placed in the back palace onto a stone platform of 1m height with two stone staircases at both sides.
Notre Wenchang statue stands high with a pen at his hand. On the southern of temple lies Tran Ba communal house (wave-guard communal house) which is in square shape. Its two-layer roof is supported by eight pillars, four outside ones are in stone while the remaining inside is in wood.
On Mount Ngoc Boi (former Mount Doc Ton), Nguyen Van Sieu built a stone tower with brush shape at tower top and three carved character “Ta Thanh Thien” (write on blue sky) on the body which commonly called Tower Pen today.
Next to it is a rolling door called Dai Nghien on which places a stone ink-slab shaping a peach half carried by three frogs. From outside in there are two walls at both sides called dragon board and lion board, which are two noble boards inscribing names of bachelors.
The Huc (light of dawn) bridge name is construed as retained beautiful light of the sun. It was built in 1865, consisting of 15 spans and 32 round piers arranged in 16 couples. The bridge is paved with wood and painted in dark-red color with golden characters. The Huc bridge leads to Ngoc Son Temple Gate, which is also known as Dac Nguyet Lau (moon viewing tower) hidden under ancient trees.
Dac Nguyet Lau is a two-storey bell tower with its architecture similar to Constellation of Literature pavilion in Temple of Literature. The tower is embanked with horse-dragon and holy turtle carried paintings and pairs of wood panels at both sides, which symbolizes pure and honest heart of Tonkin feudal intellectual: “Wooden bridge looks like the rainbow leading to the lake island. High tower with shining moonlight in centre of the lake”
The combination of Ngoc Son Temple and Hoan Kiem Lake contributes to create an overall harmonizing architecture Tian – Ren (heaven and human), forming the ancient, harmonizing and symmetrical beauty for people and nature.
The temple and lake have become evidences recalling memories of national history, awakening pride, patriotism and spirituality, awareness of Vietnamese people under long-standing survival of the nation.