This story is set during the Spanish Inquisition. This began in the late 15th century and lasted until the early 1800s. This story supposedly takes place in the early 1800s when Napoleon was in power in France. The Spanish Inquisition was a campaign undertaken by the leaders of Spain. The intent was to maintain Catholic orthodoxy (belief and practice) and to convert non-Catholics, such as Jews and Muslims, to Catholicism. The Inquisition is historically known for its repression, censorship, and sometimes torture and execution of the people who were deemed to have committed crimes against the faith (Catholicism). This occurred in Spain and other Spanish territories such as the Canary Islands, Naples, and Spanish lands/colonies in North and South America. The narrator reveals that this particular event is in Toledo, Spain.
When the story begins, the narrator finds himself imprisoned. He recalls his trial and conviction by the Inquisitors. He notes that he has been sentenced to death. He finds himself being carried down into a tomb (pit). This is the first of two rooms that he will be mentally and physically tortured in. He is eventually rescued by the French General Lasalle and his army, enemies of the Inquisition. This would have taken place in the early 1800s (during Napoleon's reign) but Poe takes some artistic license with these historical facts and figures. The Spanish Inquisition technically ended in 1834.