On the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, Pope Benedict XVI pays homage to the Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Piazza Mignanelli beside the Spanish Steps in the city centre at 16.00. In an annual tradition dating back to 1958, after kneeling in prayer the pope leaves a floral wreath which is placed on the statue of the Madonna in the square.
As well as being a Catholic holy day it is a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed; shops however remain open as it is generally seen as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.
Rome's city hall, Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitol hill, opens its doors to tourists and residents of Rome from 09.00 to 20.00. Visitors in groups of 30 people at a time will be offered guided tours in Italian and English, while in the Capitoline square clowns and jugglers will entertain children with vintage Roman games.
The Italian ministry for cultural heritage celebrates the holiday by granting Rome's residents free access to the Colosseum and the city's civic museums. To gain entry, visitors must provide identification proving their residence in Rome. The network of museums contains 18 separate institutions, including the oldest museum in the world, the Capitoline, and Rome's newest museum, the Alberto Moravia house museum which opened on 30 November.
Other museums included in the initiative are the MACRO museum of contemporary art, the Ara Pacis, the museum of Roman Civilisation, Palazzo Braschi, the Napoleonic museum, Museo Carlo Bilotti, Villa Torlonia, Barracco museum, Museo di Roma in Trastevere, Museo delle Mure, Centrale Montemartini and the Roman Forum museum.
The Villa of Massenzio on the Appian Way and the Museo Pietro Canonica in Villa Borghese provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city while Rome's Planetarium and Astronomy museum and museum of Zoology offer a fun and educational day out for children and adults alike.