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The 16th-century frescoes of the Last Judgment in Florence's Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, are once again visible to the public after a lengthy restoration.

The cupola, with its cherubim, demons and prophets, was painted by Giorgio Vasari from 1572 until 1574, and was finished by Federico Zuccari in 1579.The work never received the approval of the Florentines, who even proposed during the 19th century that the entire cupola be whitewashed to better emphasize the pure forms of Brunelleschi's architecture. The debate raged until 1981, when it was decided to restore the frescoes, which cover an area of about 14,000 square feet.

Though the cupola was first placed under wraps in 1979, the sophisticated restoration only began in 1989 and officially ended in January of last year. Since then, cathedral workers have been slowly removing the 16 concentric layers of scaffolding that had been erected in the 100-foot dome to permit the restoration. The removal of the scaffolding will be completed by the end of the year.

Those who do not suffer from vertigo can climb the 463 steps into the cupola and see the frescoes from a closer vantage point. The climb also allows one to walk around the outside of Brunelleschi's masterpiece. Open Monday to Saturday. (55) 230 2885.

France still checks passports

France has delayed compliance with the Schengen agreement, which calls for the elimination of passport checks for travelers within seven European countries - France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal. In an announcement last month, French officials said France would reserve its right to conduct border checks for an additional six months.

In response, Luxembourg officials have said that Luxembourg may do the same for travelers arriving from France.

According to the terms of the Schengen agreement, named for the Luxembourg town where it was first signed 10 years ago, travelers entering the Schengen group of countries must undergo a rigorous computer search to insure that their names do not appear on a list of undesirables, including criminals and prohibited immigrants. But once inside the Schengen borders, travelers, in theory, may move freely across borders without passport and security checks. The agreement was implemented on a trial basis in March, and was supposed to take full effect on July 1.

France's newly appointed Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, formerly in favor of open borders, said that drug traffickers and "undesirable clandestine immigrants" are a threat because of lax controls, particularly from Eastern Europe. Some French officials, including the minister of foreign affairs, Herve de Charette, say the French government's stance is, at least in part, an effort to placate the anti-immigration Front National and its supporters. But Luxembourg and German officials say that external border controls have, in fact, tightened considerably since March. Drivers traveling from Poland to Germany, for example, have complained of extensive delays because of rigorous identity checks.