Italy in August is characterized by a sea of brightly colored umbrellas lining the coasts, or of the sweltering near silent streets of the cities. Why are the coastal areas and the inland so starkly different during the month of August? This coastal migration in August is largely due to Ferragosto and the unique history that has shaped the holiday.
Of course, August and especially Ferragosto is the ideal time to have cultural and culinary vacations in Italy. Let’s find out more about this special event, its origins and meaning for the Italian.
What is Ferragosto?
Ferragosto’s Roman Roots
August, as we now know it, was once the month of Sextilius, but Caesar Augustus renamed the month after himself in 8 B.C.
The national holiday of Ferragosto dates back centuries, long before its Catholic affiliation. The first celebration of Ferragosto began with the Roman empire when Emporer Caesar Augustus (Octavian) defeated Marc Antony in the Battle of Actium. Originally titled “The Feriae Augusti” (The Festivals of Augustus), these festivals commemorated not only the victory in the Battle of Actium but also the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest.
In ancient Rome, the month of August signified a month of rest for hard laborers. Even the horses, oxen and mules were given the month off of work and adorned with flowers.
While many of these traditions have continued throughout history, the month of August was not always considered a month of rest.
The Catholic Celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Ferragosto, which takes place on August 15th, is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven.
This feast commemorates the death of the mother of Jesus and her assumption into heaven at the end of her life on earth. Like many Catholic holidays, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was organized to line up with pagan holidays that already existed, Such as The Feriae Augusti.
Fascism and Ferragosto
Much like it’s Roman genesis, during the fascist era Ferragosto again became the month long extended vacation-celebration that we see today.
Mussolini made Ferragosto a populist holiday, and hankered back to Augustus’ time of rest given to the working class. Mussolini’s Ferragosto appealed to many Italians, especially the impoverished and working class. He made travel offers so that Italians could travel to parts of Italy they had never had the chance to visit, and gave them the chance to attend exhibits showing the success of fascism.
While fascism is no longer the dominant ideology in Italy, many of these traditions have lasted throughout the years. There are many travel discounts offered through the month of August and Ferragosto still remains a day of rest for most Italians.
Why Ferragosto is the ideal time for cultural and culinary vacations in Italy
A Guide to Modern Day Ferragosto
Modern-day Ferragosto is a beautiful blend of the historical periods that have influenced the holiday.
In Siena, the Palio Di Siena horse race still takes place today and has its roots in ancient Rome with the Feriae Augusti celebrations. Many towns have processions carrying statues of the Virgin Mary to celebrate her assumption into heaven. Italians celebrate the holiday with food, wine, family and friends.
While traveling to Italy during the month of August, and especially during Ferragosto, has its challenges; it can also be a great opportunity for tourists to have culinary vacations in Italy and visit some of Italy’s most famous museums and experience the culturally rich festivities that commemorate the holiday.
If you are traveling to Rome or other major cities in Italy during August, there will be plenty of tourist attractions to explore, but beware that access restaurants and shops may be sparse. In Rome, tourists can take advantage of the smaller crowds while seeing the Colosseum and the Pantheon.
The Grand Ballo Di Ferragosto also takes place in Rome and is one of the biggest celebrations of Ferragosto that Italy has to offer. If you like to dance, the Grand Ballo Di Ferragosto is the place to be. The pop-up stages have something for everyone; from hip-hop to traditional Italian folk music. Wear your dancing shoes and come ready to dance the day away, participation is key!
If you do choose to go to the coastal regions of Italy during Ferragosto, be aware that it will be very crowded. An areal view of Italy’s beaches during this time shows an array of colorful beach umbrellas as far as the eye can see. Stay until dusk to watch fireworks over the water and bask in the beauty of the Italian summer.
While the cities may be a bit quieter than usual and the coasts more crowded, Italy in August and especially during Ferragosto can be a great time to have culinary vacations in Italy and to experience some of the rich cultural history that Italy has to offer.