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Ferragosto – Or why Rome shuts down in August

Published on August 14, 2018 by C. P.

Emperor Augustus statue Rome

It may not be as noticeable as in the olden days – the outcome of many global chains entering the Roman scene – but like other fellow travellers you may have been wondering why Rome (and Italy at large) seems to be closing down in August.

August 15th marks the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, but not everyone is a Catholic in Italy, nor this holiday explains why many shops, restaurants and offices are closed right before it… or right after!

As a matter of fact, the Catholic feast has been made to coincide with another much older celebration, one that even many Italians are now unaware of!

What does emperor Augustus have to do with summer holidays?

“Ferragosto” (the name with which we refer to August 15th) is the Italianisation of the Latin expression “Feriae Augusti” (The resting time of emperor Augustus, roughly) which were held every year at this time of the year, lasting several days. Note how the whole month of the year is still named after him?

It’s not like the emperor came up with anything new – he merely decided to “combine” together various pre-existing holidays as they were already taking place in the same period. Among them were the “Consualia”, which celebrated the end of the harvest by taking a period of rest.

So that’s what the Feriae Augusti came to represent: starting in 18 B.C., when they were officiated for the first time, they were a time to interrupt all ordinary activities and get some rest. You can say they have remained in Italy’s DNA ever since: not only many shop owners still go and close for extended periods of time during this month, but many popular events have their roots in the ancient Roman ceremony.

The most prominent example would have to be the world-famous Palio di Siena horserace. Not only the word “Palio” comes from the latin “pallium”, the piece of cloth given to the winners of rhe race, but horseraces were part of the festivities even back in the days of the Roman empire. You can consider the Palio, and all other races happening in Italy at this time of the year, as a relic of the original Feriae Augusti, one that the Catholic Church claimed for itself, by having the “pagan” holiday coincide with the religious one.

Will you be left stranded in the city?

Whether you’re planning your holiday or are in Rome right now, you might be concerned that nothing at all is open for business, and that you may even have issues with transportation and other essential services.

Ferragosto is not an apocalypse for the average tourist, though, so fear not. With the changes in society made inevitable by – for instance – globalization, the day itself is nothing but a bank holiday now. Sure, you might have seen many cafes and trattorie closed but many others are operating as usual. Hospitals, pharmacies, armed forces and police, these all work no matter what. Trains and planes abound and local buses and subway trains simply observe a timetable similar to that of Sundays.

As for ourselves at From Home to Rome, you may already be aware that we work to make sure that your holiday is perfect, so Ferragosto is a business-as-usual kind of time for us. No Feriae Augusti for us! That’s something for you to enjoy, possibly as the Romans did back in the day: with a picnic in one of the city parks! And if you need something, or are in trouble don’t forget we’re just a phone call away!

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