The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara.
Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
The beginning of building a temple where the Tōdai-ji complex sits today can be dated to 728, when Emperor Shōmu established Kinshōsen-ji (金鐘山寺) as an appeasement for Prince Motoi (ja:基王), his first son with his Fujiwara clan consort Kōmyōshi. During the Tenpyō era, Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics.
It was after experiencing these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of provincial temples throughout the nation.
Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple of Yamato Province and the head of all the provincial temples.