Historically, Nara Prefecture was also known as Yamato-no Kuni or Yamato Province.
Up to Nara-era
It is certain that a political force established at the foot of Mount Miwa in the east of Nara Basin, seeking unification of most parts in Japan from the third century until the fourth century, though the process was not well documented. At the dawn of history, Yamato was clearly the political center of Japan. Ancient capitals of Japan were built on the land of Nara, namely Asuka-kyo, Fujiwara-kyo (694–710) and Heijo-kyo (most of 710–784).
Nara in the Heian-era
In 784, Emperor Kammu decided to relocate the capital to Nagaoka-kyo in Yamashiro Province, followed by another move in 794 to Heian-kyo, marking the start of the Heian-era. The temples in Nara remained powerful beyond the move of political capital, thus giving Nara a synonym of Nanto (meaning "South Capital") as opposed to Heian-kyo, situated in the north. Close at the end of Heian-era Taira-no Shigehira, a son of Taira-no Kiyomori, was ordered by his father to depress the power of mainly Kofukuji and Todaiji, who were backing up an opposition group headed by Prince Mochihito. The movement has led into a collision between the Taira and the Nara temples in 1180, when eventually Kofukuji and Todaiji were set on fire, resulting in the vast loss of its architectures.
Middle age Nara
At the rise of the Minamoto to its ruling seat and the opening of Kamakura Shogunate, Nara enjoyed the support of Minamoto-no Yoritomo toward restoration. Kofukuji, being the "home temple" to the Fujiwara since its foundation, not only regained the power it had before but became a de facto regional chief of Yamato Province. With the recovery of Kofukuji and Todaiji, there was a town growing near the two temples.
The Nanboku-cho- era, starting in 1336, brought more instability to Nara. As Emperor Go-Daigo chose Yoshino as his base, a power struggle arose in Kofukuji with a group supporting the South and another siding the North court. Likewise, local clans were split into two. Kofukuji recovers its control over the province for a short time at the surrender of the South Court in 1392, while the internal power game of the temple itself opened a way for the local samurai clans to spring up and fight with each other, gradually acquire their own territories, thus diminishing the influence of Kofukuji overall.
City of Nara: Japan's first permanent capital was established in the year 710 at Heijo, the city now known as Nara. As the influence and political ambitions of the city's powerful Buddhist monasteries grew to become a serious threat to the government, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784.
Nara is located less than one hour from Kyoto and Osaka. Due to its past as the first permanent capital, it remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan's oldest and largest temples.