Art Culture > Italian Traditions > Five things to know about Ferragosto Date posted: August 15, 2013

Five things to
know about

The history of the Ferragosto festival in Italy

Ever tried to function in Italy in the middle portion of the month of august? Even been to a non-touristy city in that period? Or tried to speak to someone in an office? Well, its like Italian cities have become ghost towns- empty. But why? Everyone is on holiday celebrating Ferragosto.

Ferragosto I hear you say? It’s an ancient Italian festival celebrated on the 15th August which dates back to the Romans and that has been first, incorporated by the Christian faith and later by Fascism and then by popular culture.

Here are five things you need you know about the festivity we celebrate today.

Roman Origins

The history of the Ferragosto festival in Italy Romans
The term Ferragosto derives from the Latin expression feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest) indicating a festivity set up by the emperor Augustus 18 BC. Ferragosto was an addition to the existing ancient Roman festivals which fell in August, like the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest. The ancient Ferragosto had the purpose of linking the main August festivities to provide a suitable period of rest, also called Augustali, necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.

The history of the Ferragosto festival in Italy Palio

The festivities included horse racing, and the labour animals like oxen and donkeys were rested and decorated with flower garlands. The horse racing tradition survives today in the guise of the Palio Dell’Assunta, which takes place on August 16th in Siena.

Religious Significance

The history of the Italian Festival Ferragosto Assumption

The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body, into Heaven. Before the Christianity came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honour the gods, in particular Diana, and the cycle of fertility and ripening.

The Rise of the Public Holiday during Fascism
Starting from the second half of the 1920s, in the mid-August period, the regime organised, through the Fascist leisure and recreational organisations, hundreds of popular trips, due to the setting up of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto“, at discounted price. This gave the opportunity to less well of families to travel and it was during these people’s trips that the majority of Italian families had for the first time the chance to see with their own eyes the sea, the mountains and the cities of art.

Ferragosto a Family Holiday

The history of the Ferragosto festival in Italy holiday
Today, Ferragosto is still honoured as a feast day, and families take a short holiday, for those who are not off the whole month of August and head to the beach for family time and parties. Of course, huge meals, even in the hottest temperatures are central to the festivities, as well as taking in the sights of the beautiful Perseid Meteor Shower which takes place in this time, and celebrating with extravagant firework displays.


Ferragosto in Popular Culture
August, being a national month long holiday period, with Ferragosto as its apex, makes it an integral part of the memory of each generation. Songs and films have been made recounting the feelings and experiences, summer loves and Ferragosto parties. From the 60s to today, for all Italians Ferragosto remains a collective memory like studying Dante at school and Italy Winning the World Cup in 1982.

Here is an example of a song dedicated to Ferragosto by Gianni Morandi in 1966.
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Cover credits: Dolce&Gabbana SS13 Campaign 

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