Getting confused and astounded by the incredible multiplicity of Italian traditions and festivals is a common feeling while travelling through Italy or spending some days in Rome.
Facing and understanding them could be really puzzling, especially if you consider that most of them have
ancient Roman pagan roots and meanings progressively adapted to convert them into catholic festivities.
A perfect example of this? We are fastly approaching it.
It is the date of August 15th, better known in Italy as “Ferragosto”!
It became a public holiday more than two thousand years ago but it's still a time to celebrate for Italians and a much awaited one every year, being considered the height of the Italian summer,
with many people leaving the cities and taking their vacation.
Its special Italian name originates from the ancient Latin “Feriae Augusti”, which means the “Holidays of
You could wonder who is the man . . . no less than Julius Caesar’s adoptive son and the Emperor
who founded and first made great the Roman Empire!
He was such a great, unforgettable and revered man that the month of August was named after him, to
eternally commemorate the days (middle of August) when he first became consul and when he always and
forever defeated his rivals Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, also forcing them to commit suicide.
In 18 BC Augustus decided to introduce one more holiday to the already existing ancient Roman summer
festivals which fell in the same period and celebrated the harvest.
The “Feriae Augusti” were then established, with the aim to fill the gap among the separate holiday celebrations through the period and permit the workers to enjoy a longer period of rest, called “Augustali”, after the intense agricultural labor of the previous weeks.
This time off was stacked with events, shows, games, horse races across the whole empire and parades of
beasts of burden set free from their work and adorned with garlands of flowers.
Such an ancient tradition still finds “pagan” echoes nowadays, in festivals which take place in most cities
and towns through Italy on the date and are above all a true celebration of summer:
the beach games and hilarious water balloons through the day, the traditional lunch, usually a barbecue or picnic, with family and friends, and the magnificent evening fireworks in many coastal towns?
August 15 th also coincides with one of the most important Catholic feasts through the year: the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, that is the day when Catholics believe Mary ascended body and soul to heaven after her death.
The origins of this festivity date back to the 5 th century AD, probably following the building of a
church dedicated to the Virgin on Mount Sion, Jerusalem.
However, it was established as a public holy day and fixed to August 15th only at the end of the 7th century AD by will of the Byzantine Emperor Maurice.
The event is celebrated with special masses and wonderful, colourful processions carrying statues of the
Virgin through many Italian towns.
Will you be in Rome on the date? Since it is a bank holiday, you will experience the shutdown of a lot of
shops, offices and public services and see the sign “chiuso per ferie”, closed for holidays, almost
The Vatican Museums will remain closed for two days, August 15 th and the previous one,
but a large number of museums and cultural sites will be open, one for all the Colosseum!
In Rome, you will have fabulous chances to properly celebrate the summit of summer!
You could take part to the free event of the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto on the evening of August 15th, with several squares enlivened by live music and professional dancers performing all kinds of dancing,
from tango to hip-hop to rock, ballroom, swing and more. Or if you prefer to go out of Rome, you will pleased to know that Villa d'Este in Tivoli is open until Midnight.
Otherwise, you could attend the traditional Classical Music concert outside the Theatre of Marcellus, the
largest and most important theatre of ancient Rome: inaugurated by the Emperor Augustus and dedicated to his nephew and intended heir Marcellus, who died early, it will bring you back in time at the sound of the piano, in touch with the ancient origin of Ferragosto in the most thrilling and charming way!