The Column of Marcus Aurelius was set up as a funerary monument by the emperor's son and heir, Commodus (r. 180-192).
The height of the column is 39.7 m (130 feet), but 3 m or so of its base still lies underground. In 1589 Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585-90) commissioned Domenico Fontana to restore the column and adapt it to the ground level of the time. Sixtus V also re-dedicated the column to Saint Paul. The bronze statue of the apostle is by Leonardo Sormani and Tommaso della Porta. At the time of the restoration, the column was thought to have been dedicated by Marcus Aurelius to his uncle, the emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161).
The shaft of the column is made up of 28 blocks of Carrara marble, each 3.7 m in diameter. The blocks are cut away on the inside, creating a spiral staircase. The reliefs on the exterior tell the story of the emperor’s wars north of the Danube. The column was once crowned by a bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius.
In the Middle Ages the column was in the keeping of the monks of San Silvestro, who charged a fee for the privilege of climbing the stairs to enjoy the view from the top.