Ferragosto: Italy’s summer holiday

What are the origins of the Ferragosto summer holiday?

Italy marks the national holiday of Ferragosto each year on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption, the day when Catholics believe the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life.

The origins of Italy’s Ferragosto, however, date back to Roman times, with the Feriae Augusti introduced as a period of rest by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC.

In modern-day Italy, Ferragosto normally means an exodus of Italians as well as the closure of public offices and family-run businesses, restaurants, bars and shops, although larger supermarkets tend to open for a half day on 15 August.

In the past, Ferragosto meant that much of the country closed up shop for several weeks however this is no longer the case. Many Italians can not afford to take extended holidays and many businesses can not afford to shut down.

This situation has been compounded by increased costs of living and the economic fallout from the covid pandemic. In addition August is a busy month for those working in Italy’s tourism and hospitality sectors.

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Traditionally many Rome residents escape the Ferragosto heat by heading to the beach or the mountains, often joining their relations in family holiday homes.

Those left behind can enjoy the capital’s peaceful streets and parks, the traffic-free roads and the simple joy of finding a parking place with ease.

With the exception of the Vatican Museums, Rome’s museums and archaeological sites usually stay open on 15 August, and the city’s public transport network normally operates according to a reduced “festivi” timetable. 

For those interested in cooking the traditional Ferragosto meal of Pollo alla Romana, here is our recipe.

Photo credit: leonori / Shutterstock.com.