One of the many draws that travelers envy about the European lifestyle is the “work to live” mentality. Italians have managed to epitomize this during the entire month of August when the Ferragosto holiday takes place. The month-long celebration combines two long-standing traditions in the Roman culture.
The word Ferragosto literally means “August holiday,” deriving from the Italian word ferie, which means holiday, and agosto, which means “August.” The first celebrated Ferragosto was in 18 BC, when Augustus wanted his people to rest after hard labors of the harvest; this time was used to rest and rejuvenate the body and soul.
During Mussolini’s reign in the 1920’s, the Italian people were urged to travel within the country via train; tickets were offered at a discounted rate so that people of all classes were able to experience other parts of the country.
The more popular Roman tradition of Ferragosto is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th. This holy day in the Catholic faith is regarded as a national holiday, where government offices, schools, banks, and even some forms of public transportation are closed.
Most cities in Italy have processions for the Blessed Mother; in my hometown of Sciacca, Sicily, we have the well-known Madonna del Soccorso, where the village mariners carry a venerated statue of the Blessed Mother and march around the town barefoot while chanting rosaries and playing hymns with the marching band.
With roughly 45% of Italians headed to the beach, the city of Rome will seem like a ghost town on August 15th, and for most of the month, which can give its visitors the opportunity to admire the sights without all the heavy traffic. Even though a few museums, some restaurants, and minor attractions will be closed. Visitors can appreciate the splendor of the city in its natural state while listening to Notte Di Ferragosto (“Nights of Ferragosto” by Gianni Morandi).
However, hidden within this relatively quiet town, you will find the best celebration at the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto. Here you will find Romans gathered in piazzas (including Piazza del Popolo, Termini Station, and Piazza San Lorenzo), which serve as stages for professional dance, including ballroom, tango, and yes, even hip-hop.
People are encouraged to join the professionals, dance as they wish, and possibly enjoy some impromptu fireworks. The best part of all of this…the event is FREE and open to the public! Other great festivals in Rome during the month of August include Estate Romana and attractions at Castello Sant’Angelo, where you can enjoy local musicians and other performing arts.
Even though Ferragosto is technically only one day, leave it to the Italians to extend festivities and vacations for the entire month. You will see the sign Chiuso Per Ferie (“closed for vacation”) on most businesses. Italians take a few weeks, if not the whole month, of August off to rest, recuperate, travel, and spend time with family.
When traveling during this month, prepare to be flexible; if there are specific places you want to visit, research ahead of time to make sure they will be open during your dates of travel. Also, the month of August is especially hot in Rome. Make sure to have your water and sun protection on hand.
Traveling in Rome can be a bit tricky during Ferragosto, but with a little research and proper planning, it can actually be a fantastic opportunity to experience the city during a less congested time. I think we can learn something from the Italians, making time off a mandatory staple in the calendar year.
It’s no wonder that Italians are rated the top ten in life expectancy, while America, no surprise, comes in at number fifty-three. My advice…pour yourself a tall glass of chianti and plan that Italian getaway pronto. It may just add a few years to your life!
Book Rome tours to make sure you see it all this time of year.