Founded in the 8th century, this sprawling shrine at the foot of Mikasa-yama was created to protect the new capital, Nara. It was ritually rebuilt every 20 years, according to Shintō tradition, until the late 19th century and is still kept in pristine condition. Many of its buildings are painted vermilion, in bold contrast to the cedar roofs and surrounding greenery. The corridors are lined with hundreds of lanterns, which are illuminated during the twice-yearly Mantōrō lantern festival.
Every morning at 9am (except for festival days), the public is welcome to observe the chōhai (morning prayer service), held in the Naoraiden (Ceremony Hall).
There are several subshrines around the main hall. It's worth walking a few minutes south to the nearby subshrine of Wakamiya-jinja.