VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican authorities began on Monday to turn off some 100 fountains, including two Baroque masterpieces in St. Peter's Square, due to a prolonged drought affecting the tiny city state and the city of Rome which surrounds it.
Suffocating summer heat has followed two years of lower-than-average rainfall in Rome, forcing the Italian capital to close drinking fountains and consider the prospect of water rationing.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said it was the first time authorities in the spiritual home of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics could remember being forced to turn off the fountains.
Standing in St. Peter's Square, where two fountains by 17th-century sculptors Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini stood dry, Burke said the Vatican wanted to help.
"This is the Vatican's way of living solidarity with Rome, trying to help Rome get through this crisis," he told Reuters TV.
All 100 Vatican fountains will be turned off gradually over the coming days.
Rome is gasping after 72 percent less rain than normal fell in July, according to Sky Italia's weather TV channel. There was 74 percent less than normal in June, and a 56 percent reduction from the long-term average across March, April and May.
Caring for the planet and its resources is an important issue for Pope Francis, who demanded swift action by world leaders in the first ever papal document dedicated to the environment.
"This decision is very much in line with the pope's thinking on ecology: you can't waste and sometimes you have to be willing to make a sacrifice," Burke said.
(Reporting by Antonio Denti and Isla Binnie; Editing by Gareth Jones)