Ferragosto is a very traditional Italian feast and along with Easter and Christmas, is the most important vacation period in Italy. It is celebrated every year on August the 15th and it is a public holiday so almost every business will be closed on that day.
1 – Ferragosto is time of vacation.
The whole month of August is considered time for “le ferie” (vacations): thousands of Italians escape the cities and head for the coast or the countryside. August can be very hot in Italy and that’s a great excuse to stop working and have some relaxing laziness. Many shops, restaurants and businesses will close at least for a couple of weeks and the most lucky ones will go on vacation for the whole month. There’s not a general rule on which or how many days off you have (or haven’t) to take. You’ll find signs “chiuso per ferie” (closed for vacation) out of the shops with the period in which they will be closed. Just be prepared to be flexible, and plan ahead: if there’s a restaurant or shop you want to try (particularly the smaller, family-run ones), have your hotel to call in advance to make sure it’s actually open.
2 – Ferragosto’s origins can be traced very back in time.
The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus to mark the occasion of the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. Later the Catholic Church adopted this day to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven). The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose during Fascism, in the second half of the 1920s, when the regime organized hundreds of popular trips available at discounted prices.
3 – What to do on Ferragosto.
During all August many Italians will be on vacation at the seaside or in the mountains and you will find much more tourists than Italians in the cities (lots of tourists: a huge part of international tourists come to Italy in August). On the other hand, coasts will be very crowded (by Italians). The very day of Ferragosto is a public holiday and almost everything will be closed, however, State-run museums and cultural sites will be open all the weekend: for example, the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and Galleria Borghese in Rome, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, will be open. (Vatican Museums, that technically are not in Italy, but in Vatican City State, will be closed on August 15th and 16th). Here’s a list of statal sites in Italy and their opening times, divided by region.
Italians will celebrate Ferragosto with a huge lunch, either at home or at the restaurant. If you want to eat at the restaurant, you have to find one that is open and make a reservation well in advance. In most of Italy, especially in touristic areas and locations, Ferragosto is a sort of second New Year’s Eve, with parties and celebrations in the streets. You’ll find celebrations in many places in Italy on this day and the days before and after, often including music, food, parades, and fireworks.
4 – Rome and Siena: examples of Italian Ferragosto.
In Rome the big attraction is the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto: streets, squares, corners, alleys will be flood by music, involving the whole city. There’s a different dance in each square, from tango to rock, hip-hop to samba, and larger squares will host dance performances all day.
A particular and famous event takes place every year immediately after Ferragosto: is the Palio horse race, in Piazza del Campo in Siena, every August 16. The Palio di Siena is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honor of the Assumption of Mary. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards. The race itself runs for three laps of the Piazza del Campo, the perimeter of which is covered with several inches of dirt and tuff. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line: a horse can also win without its rider (cavallo scosso).
5 – Be prepared to very hot days.
August is a little cooler than July, but not by much. The monthly average temperature is a high of 89°F in Rome and Florence, 87°F in Naples and 82°F in Venice. If you’re experiencing August in Italy, use your light layers, drink a lot of water and eat gelato every day!
Enjoy Italy even in the middle of August, just be careful with transportation (a lot of Italians will be on the move and you will find traffic on the streets and trains, planes or ferry boats might be overloaded) and don’t expect anything to be open (if shopping in Italy is a must for you, maybe Ferragosto isn’t the best time for you to go). You can have fun in the cities, especially after sunset, or enjoy seaside and countryside: just like Italians do!