The name of this piazza comes from Marcus Aurelius's column still standing where it was erected in ancient Rome and reminding us of the topographical changes made in the city over the centuries.
In Imperial times, there used to be a temple dedicated to the Emperor on part of what is now the piazza.
Colonnades bounded two sides, with houses and shops on the Via del Corso side. The column was erected in 180 AD in the center of the temple's piazza.
The reliefs narrate the imperial campaigns of the era of Marcus Aurelius and, for the first time, they were the works of actual Roman artists. Even if they are less refined than those on Trajan's column, they are nevertheless more expressive.
In the Middle Ages, the piazza was at the intersection of the two most important pilgrim itineraries: one went from Piazza del Popolo to the Campidoglio and then on to San Giovanni in Laterano; the other left from Via Salaria towards Porte Sant'Angelo and on to St. Peter's.
After the Renaissance when restoration work was done on the column, the piazza began to take on its present appearance. The small medieval dwellings gave way to palaces for noble families. Bars and cafés became important meeting places for citizens and, especially, intellectuals involved in city politics.