You’re in Italy in August and confused as to why the cities are empty and many things are closed. It is probably due to Ferragosto. But what is Ferragosto exactly? Let’s find out.
The simple answer
Ferragosto is August 15th and is a public holiday where most businesses and many services are closed.
The long answer
Ferragosto, nowadays, generally refers to both the public holiday and the longer two-week vacations most Italians takes either before or after the 15th. Many businesses close or have limited hours through the entire month of August as their staff take vacations. And you can be guaranteed that they will definitely be closed on the 15th itself.
There is a really long and interesting history behind the holiday. While recognized as a major Catholic holiday, the 15th of August is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, it actually has ancient roots. Emperor Augustus commenced the Feriae Augusti in 18 BCE most likely as a victory celebration over a battle. But, it stuck around year after year as an extended period of rest and revelry after the intensive agricultural period.
This practice evolved with the onset of Christianity and in the Renaissance became a major cultural practice, with various festivals and events happening to celebrate the holiday. In fact, the Palio di Siena is one of the long-lasting celebrations from this period. Many other customs from Ferragosto during the Renaissance continue to persist to this day, such as businesses closing.
During the Fascist era, Mussolini implemented a Ferragosto policy which essentially created the lasting custom of heading out of town to the sea or the lake. Subsidized trips for lower-classes were offered over the holiday weekend so that they may get the chance to rest and recharge for a couple of days. While classes are no longer a major aspect of who gets to travel and where the long-weekend concept has stuck around.
Is everything truly closed?
Yes and no. Yes, businesses, grocery stores and many places in cities are closed. Often times they will have limited hours around the 15th and close just for the day. However, since the cities tend to empty out throughout the month, many businesses have extended closures.
Museums, attractions and seaside businesses will definitely be open. Since everyone is at the sea, this is the prime time for seasonal businesses and beachside posts to be operating. Fair warning, they will be packed to the gills. Museums and major attractions also stay open throughout the month. So it may just be the perfect time to check out some Renaissance paintings or head to the Coliseum.
Is there a way I can celebrate?
Definitely! You can do as the locals do and head to a beach town yourself. Just book well in advance because things fill up fast. There are generally fireworks and local church processions in coastal towns on the 15th itself. One of the most famous is in Diano Marino, Liguria which just so happens to be near Poggio di Gorleri! And speaking of wine, you can definitely reserve a custom Grand Wine Tour and escape the crowds discover the sips of Italy in the most amazing wineries in the country.