If you’ve ever had a beach holiday in Italy in August, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole country is on vacation with you as the waterfronts bustle with gloriously tanned, speedo-clad Italians. You wouldn’t be far wrong either, around half the population tends to take long August holidays. And at the height of the month, on the 15th, the entire country closes, the autostradas seize up, mutating into monstrous carparks and millions more Italians make a dash to the seaside! This is Ferragosto!
Traditionally the festival of Ferragosto, or Assumption Day, is a national holiday celebrated on August 15th, when many businesses, shops, bars and restaurants shut. The name dates back to Ancient Roman times when Emperor Augustus instigated his Feriae Augusti, or Festival of Augustus, to link existing festivals and give workers a rest after the harvest. Celebrations often also included horse races – a tradition which can still be seen in Siena’s Palio dell’Assunta (Palio of the Assumption) on 16th August. The name Palio even dates back to the Ancient Romans as the pallium was a piece of fabric given to the winners of horse race in Rome, just as the winning contrada of the Siena Palio receives a painted silk banner today.
More recently, Mussolini’s 1930s fascists were big fans of the August 15th Ferragosto holiday offering cheap rail tickets to enable workers to take off for the seaside. In practice these days however, rather than just closing for a day, many businesses take their annual holidays around Ferragosto, closing up for anything from a week or two to the entire month of August.
The advantage of this for tourists, is that Rome streets are practically empty of traffic in August, for example, whilst museums, gift shops and tourist attractions are usually still open for business.
The disadvantage is that some inland towns and villages become virtual ghost-towns as many shops and offices decide that it is just too hot to work in August. Tracking down a tradesman can be near impossible as plumbers, electricians and builders close. Sicillians who have migrated north, an Italian teacher friend of mine included, often head home for the entire month to visit family and friends. Many local bars, food shops and restaurants shut up too so finding a good cup of espresso or food supplies becomes just a little bit more tricky. And coastal roads are tested to their limits around Ferragosto as extended families pack up home to head for sun, sea and sand.
The actual day of Ferragosto itself is a religious feast day celebrating the assumption of the Virgin Mary with picnics, long languid family lunches or barbecues. And beaches throng with thonged Italian bathers as the entire country takes a holiday! Its a proper knees up, Italian style!
So if you’re planning to be in Italy for Ferragosto and enjoy a good party make sure you stock up, lock up and head down to the beach to join the celebrations! Leave me a comment to let me know what you’ll be up to, or with an invitation! Go on, dive in!!
Buon Ferragosto a tutti!!! / Happy Ferragosto to all!!