Ferragosto, August 15th, is the highlight of Italy’s summer. Seen as the last hurrah before colder temperatures arrive, Italians normally run to the beaches, mountains to recharge as far away from the cities as they can and many pause to reflect on the word of God. On this public Italian holiday supermarkets, banks are all closed, restaurants are heavily booked, finding a public parking space along the coast is almost impossible and if you want to hideaway in the mountains, take this advice. Go early, take food, swim and relax in welcome cold rivers – around this time there is usually record heat cerca 34o Celsius- then tuck into your picnic. How distinctively Italian is this tradition and how deeply is it rooted into the culture? Read on to find out.
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What is the history of Ferragosto in Italy?
Ferragosto in Italy dates back to the first Roman Emperor, Augustus ( click here for snippets that shaped his interesting life) who implemented a rest and festivity period starting on August 1st 18 BC after all the arduous work done to harvest and honour the God of the grains, Conso. Organized agriculture, mainly based around animal rearing, grains, legumes, grapes and olives was integral to Rome’s societal structure. Grains, such as barley and wheat for instance are widely recorded as main sustenance for Roman soldiers. All of this, centuries ago before Italy as we now know it was even a thought, Ferragosto came into existence as a Roman tradition. The Catholic church later absorbed this celebration and repositioned it to coincide with August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the belief that on this day, the mother of Christ directly ascended in body and spirit to the heavens above. The feast of the Assumption is a Holy Day of Obligation where Catholics are obliged to attend Mass, refrain from spiritually distracting activities or unnecessary labour.
Fascism and Ferragosto?
During Fascism, the ‘National Fascist Party’, Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) lead by Benito Mussolini and founded on right-wing politics November 8th, 1921 made arrangements with workers’ unions, railway stations and other entities allowing working class and otherwise low income families to travel outside of their towns on heavily discounted train tickets to visit the coast or mountains August 13th through to 15th. As only the train ride was provided with no onboard catering services, Italians prepared meals to take on these trips. These trains were known as Treni popolari di Ferragosto , the low-priced Ferragosto trains. This incentive from 1922 – 1943 went on to shape the now customary family trips out of town for Ferragosto. It is also noteworthy to remember that rural zones and the middleclass gave considerable support to Fascism in its inception, fuelling its rapid spread and the belief that a new Italy was on the horizon where they would be among the drivers and owners.
Tips to Enjoy Ferragosto in Italy
- Book restaurants, hotels, outside activities, etc in advance.
- Take sunscreen and sun hats. It is usually the hottest period of the year, heatwaves are normal around this time.
- If you dont fancy crowded beaches, you could postpone your day trip or go early in the morning.
- Explore cities, they are often deserted.
- Try seasonal food and the local dishes in your region.
- Do like the Italians, take homemade snacks / meals.
- Have a granita.