There is no off-season in Florence, crowds of tourists swarm all around the city any time of the year. If you wish to see all the main attractions, you should follow this simple rule: when you walk by a place and there are no crowds, drop your plans and rush inside. Thus we went into Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence, on New Year’s eve: miraculously, for a very brief moment there were no long lines of people eager to get in. Entrance to the cathedral is free; it is open daily, though it may be closed for services and special occasions. The cathedral, built between 1296 and 1436, is huge and immensely beautiful, with multicolored marble façade, its tall dome built by the famous architect Brunelleschi, and a wealth of magnificent paintings and frescoes decorating its walls. It is impossible to snap a picture of the whole buildings due to its sheer size. It is indeed a landmark which can be seen from practically anywhere in the city. The inside of the dome is enough to make one stare open-mouthed for a long time. The Baptistery, erected on the site of an old church between 1059-1128, is perhaps the oldest and certainly one of the most amazing still functioning religious buildings in town. Lots of tourists always flock around its famous doors, The Gates of Paradise, snapping pictures. The 14th century Campanile, the bell-tower designed by Giotto, is part of the ensemble. A few years ago, it was possible to buy separate tickets for those attractions. Now one has to buy a 10 euro combination ticket which gives access to the Baptistery, the Campanile, and the cathedral Crypt, where one of the statues shows Brunelleschi himself gazing up at his creation. We did not want to climb up the tower, nor did we wish to go down into the Crypt; and we had no desire to stand in long lines anywhere. So we got the tickets and went to see the Baptistery. It is breathtaking, all lovely paintings and frescoes, with lots of gold in them which create a peculiar effect of a thousand little suns shining all over the walls and ceiling. From the outside, it looks like a giant octagonal hat sitting right on the ground. Inside, the rounded walls and the triangular parts of the domed ceiling create a vast panorama of the Heavens.
Once you remember where Il Duomo is, you cannot get lost. There are signs pointing towards it everywhere. Piazza del Duomo is the town’s main square, with many events taking place there on various holidays. The main Christmas tree stands there, and there is the usual Nativity pageant in front of it. Through the twelve days of Christmas, it is barely possible to walk across the square. We made the small mistake of going there close to midnight to celebrate the New Year with the thousands of people who came there carrying champagne bottles, and we barely managed to squeeze our way to the place. It might have been better to go in another direction, to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. But it was very loud and a lot of fun!

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