Europe was given a front-row seat for the first solar eclipse of 2011 only to find that in many places a thick curtain of cloud marred the spectacle.

In London, Paris and Rome, hopes for a darkening of the winter skies at sunrise were dashed by dense cloud, which turned the event into a grey mush.

Better luck was had in sunny southern Spain and Israel, where several observatories ran live webcasts using telescopes fitted with special filters.

The best view was to be had in the Swedish town of Skellefteea, which lies about 200km south of the Arctic circle.

Tuesday's partial eclipse occurred when a fraction of the Moon obscured the Sun, making it seem - in clear skies - as if a "bite" had been taken out of the solar face.

Since ancient times, eclipses have been viewed by many as ominous events linked to the end of the world.

In the Middle East, the Sun was almost half-obscured when seen from Beirut, Jerusalem and Amman, but more than 60 per cent from towns in Turkey according to calculations by veteran eclipse-watcher Fred Espenak.

Later, central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and northwest China all watched an eclipsed Sun dive over the horizon.

Jonah Hull reports from London.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies