The temple was a colonnaded structure some 70 metres by 40 metres, in front of the Colosseum, within a colonnaded enclosure. The temple platform was originally built under Domitian between 81 and 96, and may have been a place of worship to Jupiter. The remnants of this terrace are still visible today at the north-east corner of the Palatine Hill.
When Elagabalus became emperor in 218 the temple was expanded and rededicated to the god El-Gabal, the patron deity of his homeplace Emesa in Syria. Elagabalus renamed the god Deus Sol Invictus and personally led a cult that worshipped this deity. Deus Sol Invictus was personified by a conical black stone, which has been suggested to have been a piece of meteorite rock.
After Elagabalus' death the temple was again dedicated to Jupiter by Severus Alexander. A second, smaller temple to the god El-Gabal was built where the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme now stands. If still in use by the 4th-century, it would have been closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire.