A rare mantle of snow blanketed the historic center of Rome Friday, forcing the closure of schools and tourist sites such as the Colosseum, as temperatures plunged to new lows in Europe where a week-long cold snap has now claimed more than 220 lives and forecasters warned that the big freeze would tighten its grip at the weekend.

The snow covered palm trees, ancient Roman ruins and Baroque churches across the normally mild-weather Italian capital which has only seen one snowfall in the past 15 years in which the snow stayed on the ground for a whole day.

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