From the Sistine Chapel to St Peter's Square, the locations where the election of Benedict XVI's successor will play out in the coming days are part of a priceless cultural heritage.
Here are descriptions of the main spots to watch, starting with the residence where 115 cardinals from all over the world will move on Tuesday and stay until they have elected a new pope.
*St Martha's Residence
A building completed in the 1990s just behind St Peter's Basilica, this is where the cardinal electors stay during the days of the conclave.
In previous conclaves, the cardinals slept in corridors and rooms of the Apostolic Palace itself. Their new lodgings include en-suite bathrooms and a hotel-style room service.
Every morning the cardinals take a minibus with blacked-out windows to the Sistine Chapel.
*St Peter's Basilica
Cardinals will celebrate a special mass in this landmark of Roman Catholicism before the start of the conclave on Tuesday.
Following the mass, the Princes of the Church walk in procession to the Sistine Chapel singing the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" ("Come Creator Spirit") in Latin to invoke the Holy Spirit.
The basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, is a jewel of Renaissance architecture and contains the tomb of St Peter -- the first pope.
Situated inside the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, this 15th-century chapel is world renowned for its spectacular frescoes by Michelangelo.
A special stove has been installed in the chapel where the cardinals' ballots are burnt after each vote during the conclave until a new pope is found.
Black smoke indicates that the required majority for a new pope has not been found, white smoke that there is a new leader of the Catholic world.
*St Peter's Square
Architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century designed the famous Vatican plaza, which has a 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk in the middle.
The famous marble colonnades -- four columns deep -- are arranged in an elliptical shape. The square can fit tens of thousands of people on a busy day.
The new pope will appear to the world for the first time on the main balcony of the basilica's facade, to a cry of "Habemus Papam!" ("We have a Pope!"). He will then deliver his first blessing.
"Pope Emeritus" Benedict XVI, whose resignation triggered the conclave, is currently staying at the papal summer residence near Rome, where he formally gave up his powers on February 28 -- the first pope to do so since the Middle Ages.
Benedict is expected to stay for around two months in the luxurious 55-hectare (136-acre) property, which is larger than the Vatican City itself.
The main structure was built in the 17th century.
The palace is surrounded by sumptuous gardens and looks out over a lake. The pope is accompanied by two secretaries and four housekeepers.
*Mater Ecclesiae Monastery
This two-storey brick building on a hilltop inside the Vatican walls overlooking St Peter's will eventually be the former pope's permanent residence.
The structure was built on the spot where a fortress monastery had existed since the ninth century to protect against barbarian invasions.
The building has breathtaking views and is surrounded by manicured gardens, making it the ideal retreat for a life of quiet contemplation.