Better known as ‘Ferragosto‘, August 15th in Italy is a public holiday that dates back to 18 BC, when the Roman emperor Augustus introduced the ‘Feriae Augusti‘ (Emperor Augustus’ festivity) to connect the many festivals that took place during the month of August to celebrate the harvest, and also to provide a longer period of rest after a time of intense agricultural labor. Much later, the holiday took a religious significance when the Catholic church began to celebrate on this date the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.
Today, for both these reason and it falls during the hottest month of the year, Ferragosto marks the high point of Italy’s summer holiday season and most Italians take their summer vacation around this time. Who cannot go on holiday, will enjoy a long weekend or, at least, a day at the seaside, lakes or mountains, and cities become much quieter than usual. However, many museums and cultural sites remain open offering discounted rates and free tickets to welcome tourists, as well as locals, in the cradles of Italy’s cultural heritage, so it is an excellent time to visit major attractions that are usually too crowded.
Cultural visits aside, there is always plenty to do for Ferragosto, in fact there are many traditions related to this special day of the year: water balloons, bonfires, dances, fireworks displays, beach games, horse races, and even religious processions carrying statues of the Virgin Mary through the historic centers of many towns. While whoever is left in Rome takes part in the ‘Gran Ballo di Ferragosto’, a city-wide party during which every street, square, and corner is dedicated to dancing.
As every year, many spectacular fireworks shows are planned throughout the country, either on the eve of Ferragosto or on the evening of the 15th. Some of the best ones are organized: on the beach of Marina di Carrara (Massa Carrara), where they are shot to the sound of music; on Lombardy’s lakes in Gravedona ed Uniti (Como), Castro (Bergamo), Limone sul Garda (Brescia), and Derivio (Lecco); in Val d’Ossola, with the grand finale of ‘Vette d’artificio’, a festival that brings fireworks and music together.