Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ferragosto – Vacation, Food, Wine and ... Orgies?

What is Ferragosto? Ferragosto is a day off from work, a day of relax, a day of food, sun, and fun. Ferragosto is a great time to spend with family and friends, a day when most retail, commercial, industrial and governmental offices are closed. Ferragosto is religious processions and many towns celebrate Ferragosto with communal fairs, fireworks and dancing in the square. Ferragosto is fun!

A visit to Italy during the period stretching from the 25th of July through the 10 of September can be of extremes. The cities are empty, it only takes about 15 minutes to drive from one side of Milan to the other, and in the cities along the coast millions of people gather increasing the local population 10 times. On the 15th of August, Ferragosto, whether in the city or along the sea, the streets are empty until well into the afternoon. Most Catholics will tell you that Ferragosto is the celebration of the Assumption, that is when the Madonna was allowed into heaven, but the origins of Ferragosto are deeply rooted in the Roman Empire.

For hundreds of years before the birth of Christ the end of the summer agricultural season was celebrated with 15 days of feasts, elaborate parties and orgies. All members, including the Plebe and Slaves, of the Roman Empire participated in the festivities. Octavian, heir of Julius Caesar, became Augustus, or the one consecrated. The sixth month of the Roman calendar took his name. Augustus had been involved in a long battle with Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony had moved to Egypt, married Cleopatra, ex wife of Julius Caesar, and had established a small kingdom around Alexandria. In a great naval battle Mark Anthony’s navy was defeated. Shortly thereafter the son-in-law of Augustus entered Egypt and made Egypt one of Rome’s provinces.

On August 13, 29 B.C. Octavian, emperor of Rome known as Augustus, celebrated the triumph related to the conquest of Egypt: the memory of that day survives in the Italian holiday of Ferragosto (Feriae Augusti), now celebrated on the 15th. Over the centuries to follow the Catholic Church became more powerful and slowly attempted to eliminate the pagan and social holidays making the church’s traditions the center of everyday life. Ferragosto was too important to simply do away with and following the recognition of Catholicism as the official religion of Rome in 386 B.C. decided that Ferragosto should be celebrated as the day the Virgin Mary was taken into heaven, obviously eliminating the orgies.

In the 30s, Mussolini made Ferragosto a national holiday and initiated the process of vacationing in August. Italian workers earn 6 weeks paid vacation for every year worked. In the 60s, the Italian economy was in full swing of its industrial revolution. The make-up of the workforce had moved from agricultural to heavy industry. This created a serious problem during the hot month of August. The working conditions in the plants were unbearable because of the heat. The Unions and Industrialists got together and decided to close the plants for 3 weeks during the hottest days of August and required the employees to use part of their paid vacation for this purpose.

Although changes in the Italian economy from Industrial to high-tech and the implementation of air conditioning have made obsolete the necessity to close the plants, the tradition exists. Presently companies rarely shut-down for more than the 4 days surrounding Ferragosto and the vacations are now spread out from June through late September, however they do run on limited personnel as most Italians prefer vacationing in August.

One of the great things about Ferragosto and tourists is that if you get to the museums early, before 9:00 AM, you will be able to go through without masses of people or lines. The Italians will sleep in!


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Anonymous Soto said...

I think I will assume you were the Travel Italy who visited my site yesterday (The Flip Side). I just wanted to thank you for your comment, and let you know that you are not a geek. I love Stargate and watch it as often as I can LOL Ok so maybe we are both geeks LOL

2:55 PM

Blogger hseldon said...

Soto, you, and I have something in common we are all geeks. Stargate is one of my favorite shows, even before the new Battlestar Galactica.... David great post, I love the history lessons that you provide was fascinating.

4:49 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

soto I guess we should be proud of our personal characteristics? If it were not for us how would the rest of the world know they are "cool"? I mean look at the alternative: Desperate Housewives

G.K. There is comfort in numbers... In University the first Battlestar Gallactica, a never miss occasion, and to my joy I found out that a girl I skied with at Sundance was actually Anny (late season arrival - a new pilot) but she never revealed anything about the upcoming episodes.

I think it is valuable if we understand the why of things. When a government wants to dominate the masses it degrades the educational system, some burned books, eliminated libraries, stopped the exchanging of ideas because an informed populous cannot be dominated. I think this is somehow happening here in the US. People do not care about the "why" of things and so we make the same mistakes over and over again. I hope that my posts will get people thinking and talking.

6:32 AM

Blogger Dianne said...

Hmmmmm how do I follow this, especially as I am no great scifi fan! The more I listen to your tales of Italy the more I want to got back. I was in Northern Italy earlier this year and had a fabulous 24 hours, while travelling from Monte Carlo to Chamonix .... the scenic route apparantly!!!

1:08 PM

Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Any tales of Europe makes me so homesick. But what else is new. I still wonder since many European city go empty, where do all the people go?? I hope just not to one place...hehe..

1:34 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Dianne No problem about the SCIFI. Raffaella doesn't get it either but she still allows me to watch, somewhat unencumbered, my Friday night madness.

Montecarlo to Ventimiglia, Alessandria, Torino, Monte Bianco (my car once died 100 meters from the top of the traforo but that is another story) I assume. That is truly beautiful. I hope you stopped for Barolo, Barbaresco, tartufo and Chocolate along the way!

Expat I understand about the homesick, I always concentrate on the positive things where ever I may be, it helps, some...

The city people go, most to the same places, to the beach. About 40% travel outside the country.

When in a beach town outside of Rome it seems like all of Rome is there with you.

I have met business acquaintances while in Sardegna, Sicilia and down in Puglia. It is really weird when that happens.

1:44 PM

Blogger Ann said...

Sooo true that towns become ghost towns during august, especially the 15th. I am currently housesitting for my in-law's, walked home to get something, the streets were EMPTY......

3:55 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Ann Glad to hear from you. I was thinking you, also, were in some vacation destination, catching the rays!

7:17 AM


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