Built by Saicho, the founder of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, as a temple to guard the Heian-kyo capital against the negative influences thought to enter from the northeast. The temple is originally known as Hiezan Temple. Enryaku-ji Temple developed into a center of monastic discipline that produced numerous great monks who founded important Japanese Buddhist sects: men such as Honen, Eisai, Shinran, Dogen and Nichiren.
By the latter half of the 10th century, Enryaku-ji Temple was a flourishing temple, with its temple buildings configured much as they are today, centered around three principal tracts known as the Toto (East Pagoda), Saito (West Pagoda) and Yókawa tracts. The temple was ravaged by fire on several occasions in the past but was rebuilt each time. The worst damage occurred in 1571, when Enryaku-ji was put to flame in the course of a military campaign and lost most of its temple buildings.
The main hall for the entire complex is the Kompon Chudo, reconstructed in 1642. At ground level it measures 11 bays (a bay is the distance between two pillars) across the front and 6 bays front to back. The front part of the building contains the outer worship hall (gejin), measuring 1 bay from front to back, and the plank-floored inner worship hall (chujin), also 1 bay deep, while the sanctuary (naijin), at the rear of the building, measures 4 bays in depth and has a flagstone-paved earthen floor. The building, in accordance with precedent, houses three distinct halls with finely coffered ceilings. This form and scale herald back to the Heian period (794-1185). The way or Japanese-style tone implicit in the buildings structural framework, and the detailed craftsmanship, create and early Edo-period (1603-1867) feel.
The temple's three tracts contain numerous other buildings dating as late as the 17th century, and imbue the temple grounds with the aura of that period.