August 15th. It’s got to be the most dead moment in any Italian city. It’s the national holiday particular to Italy called Ferragosto. Everyone is at the beach, preparing for the night’s feast, fireworks, and camp-out under the stars. For an Italian, it is truly offensive to work on this day. When I was in grad school, my father in law once caught me trying to study on Ferragosto and I got in a lot of trouble for this. It’s not that it’s a religious holiday – it is ALSO the assumption of Mary – but rather it’s an instituted moment of rest that has roots in Ancient Roman culture. It’s the height of summer, the hottest days… Before Italy picked up the pace and joined the world economy, almost all businesses closed in August, probably because before airconditioning it was too hot to concentrate. You will find that many small businesses and stores still do close-, if not for the whole month, at least for the two central weeks that include Ferragosto.
Museums are closed on Ferragosto, and some churches will be busy with services. But the resourceful traveler will find plenty of interesting things to do on this day. Here are my top 10 picks.
1) Go see the ostentation of the Madonna’s Belt in Prato. The sacred relic of Prato is displayed to the public five times a year from the pulpit by Donatello on the outside of the Cathedral, amidst much pomp and circumstance. (The Donatello pulpit depicts dancing putti all around, and has been replaced by a copy on the exterior corner of the Duomo; go inside the museo del Duomo if it’s open to see the real thing.)
2) cure what ails you at a thermal bath establishment. Call to make sure it’s open, and don’t expect to be able to book a massage.
3) head to Siena for the palio that takes place on August 16th. Festivities start building up the day before.
4) Go to Orbatello to the WWF protected coastal lagoon and see pink flamingos. Then pitch a tent at the nearby Argentario camping village; stay up all night partying with Italians and playing with fireworks.
5) to to any beach in Tuscany or elsewhere. Arrive early and stake your square meter of sand with a tent or other makeshift shelter. Bring a large cooler containing pasta al forno and melanzane (if you’re in the south) or sandwiches (in the north). Now you are living the holiday like a real Italian – congratulations.
6) The archaeological museums of the province of Bologna are, with only one exception, open this year for Ferragosto. This is a rare enough occurance to merit its own web page.
7) if in Rome, go to the Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival to see JAVIER GIROTTO & AIRES TANGO, which costs 12 euros and kids get in free.
8) if you like Italian pop music and if screaming pre-teens is your thing, go to Riccione (night-clubbing beach town par excellence) to see Cesare Cremonini. For the slightly more mature music lover, Claudio Baglione (still good looking in his, what, 60s?!) is playing in Piombino (province of Livorno).
9) Go surfing. There are no opening hours for that.
10) I’m running out of ideas… Go to church. Churches will be celebrating the Assumption of the Madonna, so around 10am, you can certainly go to a service in the Duomo of any city or town.
Got any better ideas? Write ’em here in the comments section!