The Many Meanings Of The Ferragosto Holiday

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By Helena Zonta

Ferragosto is one of the biggest holidays in Italy, associated with barbecues and picnics, celebrations and festivities, long-weekends or week-long vacations in the cool mountains or at the seaside, as well as “chiuso per ferie” signs and the closing of many offices, shops, industries and services. 

It’s the national holiday that celebrates going on holiday! 

Ottaviano- Augusto

The name comes from the Latin feriae Augusti (meaning August holiday), established by the emperor Ottaviano Augusto, in 18 B.C., as a period of rest and celebrations. Its origins are pagan, and linked to the Consualia festivals that marked the end of agricultural work; it was originally dedicated to Conso, who in the Roman religion, was the god of earth and fertility.

Throughout the Roman Empire, celebrations with horse races were organized, while farm animals were adorned with flowers. This tradition is still alive today, and you can witness it at the spectacular Palio dell’Assunta, which takes place in Siena on August 16th

It became customary for peasants and field workers to greet their employers and land owners with “buon ferragosto”, earning them a monetary tip in return. In ancient times, the festival was celebrated on August 1st, and the holiday and festivities were prolonged by several weeks, to include also mid-month celebrations dedicated to the goddess Diana, patroness of hunters, the countryside and the Moon.

In the 7th century this pagan and ancient Roman festival was assimilated by the Catholic Church, and merged with the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on August 15th.  

Up to a few years ago, the entire country would come to a halt for the last 2 weeks of August, sending shock waves not only for the economy, but also for surprised tourists who were incredulous to see so many “chiuso per ferie” signs popping up during high season. However, a large number of cultural sites remain open on Ferragosto, so it’s actually a good time to go visit museums and exhibitions, and since everyone tries to escape, the city is much quieter than usual. 

One of my favorite Ferragosto traditions are the spectacular fireworks, which usually commence around midnight on August 15th. In previous years we used to watch them from the Castello di San Giusto – it was a truly breathtaking event, with glorious colors and combinations reflected on the dark sea water.

This year, the mayor of Trieste decided to cancel the fireworks, because of the grave situation in the country and the world. However, if you are a fan of pyrotechnics head over to Lignano on 16 August, where fireworks begin at 22:30. The organizers say that while this year the spectacle will not include the biggest, longest or most beautiful fireworks, they will certainly be the most emotional ever.

Some suggestions for celebrating Ferragosto in typical Trieste style:

  • Go to an osmizza (preferably one that has a view of the Gulf), and relax while sipping Vitovska and sampling the home-made food; check out their website to see which ones are open, and remember to call ahead and reserve your place. 
  • Most restaurants offer special set-price menus, and have live music, but make sure you reserve on time, as especially this year places are quite limited. 
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Helena Zonta
Helena is a writer, copywriter, consultant, and entrepreneur, with a wealth of experience in research, analysis and writing, communication, negotiation and mediation, international relations, project management, teaching and training, and business development. Among other projects, she worked for the United Nations, in Pristina and Belgrade, for several years. Following the birth of her two children, she went into private consulting. She divides her time between Belgrade and Trieste, and is at present writing two books about living in Trieste – one in English, and one in Serbian

1 COMMENT

  1. As usual, your articles are very interesting!! Well done Helena!!
    Buon Ferragosto.
    We are still stuck on ” House arrest ” in London. We hope to see you soon.
    F. & L.

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