Santa Maria Presso Satiro: A church with an optical illusion

In 1472, architect Donato Bramante was given what was surely the most challenging task of his career. He was told to replace a tiny chapel in the heart of Milan with a bigger place of worship. But there was only one problem – the church sat on a miniature patch of land, and the roads surrounding it made it impossible to expand outwards. But being the creative man he was, Bramante managed to come up with the perfect solution. He created an optical illusion inside the church.

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Upon entering the doors of Santa Maria Presso Satiro, visitors are immediately drawn to the impressive space behind the altar. Rows of columns support a beautifully gilded ceiling that matches the arches above the pews. But don’t be fooled – it’s all a clever illusion, because the space behind the altar is actually less than three feet deep. In fact, what seems like a vast expanse is really a painted wall.cathedral1

Renaissance enthusiasts will be in heaven inside this little church, but the optical illusion is bound to impress just about anyone.


But there’s more to this church than its deceptive wall. The entire cathedral is elaborately decorated, and beautiful statues contribute to its elegant atmosphere.


A separate room on the right side of the church sits under an impressive domed ceiling. Circular windows allow natural light to flood through, making this the brightest area of the cathedral.domedceilingOnce you’ve admired the beauty inside Santa Maria Presso Satiro, head outdoors and observe just how small its patch of land really is. You’ll soon see that the lovely architect Bramante listened to the age-old advice of making the most of what he was given.


Address: Via Torino, 17-19

Lynsey Free

Lynsey Free is founder and editor of Postcards from Milan. As a freelance journalist and copywriter, her work has been published on, RT television, Sky News, News Corp sites, and MyFox channels. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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