Excited tourists gathered at the Vatican on Saturday, eagerly awaiting the papal conclave, after cardinals announced the meetings to elect a new pope would begin on March 12th.

Huge crowds are expected to gather in St Peter's Square, waiting for the conclave of 115 cardinals meeting in the Sistine Chapel to select a new pope.

Twice a day, smoke will billow from a specially selected chimney as cardinals cast their ballots. Black smoke means no final decision has been made, while white smoke shows that a new pontiff has been selected.

Benedict's surprise abdication last month has brought most of the world's cardinals to the Vatican for discussions on the problems facing the 1.2 billion-member Church, and to decide on the profile of the man they want to lead them.

The cardinals have been holding meetings since Benedict left and continued to meet on Saturday.

It's not known how long the conclave will last - the last six popes have all been elected within four days, with Benedict becoming pontiff in 2005 in barely 24 hours.

The cardinals have said they want another quick decision this time to make sure they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations - the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.

The names of several possible frontrunners have been mentioned by church officials since Benedict's announcement on February 11 that he was quitting the papacy for health reasons after an eight-year reign.

Amongst the most mentioned are Italy's Angelo Scola, Brazil's Odilo Pedro Scherer and Canada's Marc Ouellet.

Presented by Adam Justice