If you are visiting Tuscany in August, you cannot come without knowing what Ferragosto is, and how Italians use to spend this summer celebration. Ferragosto is a traditional Italian public holiday celebrated every 15 August. Originally Ferragosto was a non-religious holiday and was celebrated the 1 August. Due to the Catholic Church, it was postponed to the 15 August coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary.
Ferragosto in the history
The origin of the Ferragosto dates back to the Roman Empire. During the month of August there were already ancient feasts to celebrate the end of a period of hard farming works and the beginning of the harvest, as Vinalia Rustica or Consualia.
Moreover, the emperor Augustus on 18 BC established a new feast day, called Feriae Augusti (rest of Augustus) in Latin. This festival had two meanings. It was a politic propaganda and the opportunity to give a longer period of rest to the farm hands.
Workers used to thank their employers with a generous tip. Also, during the celebrations all across the Empire there were horse races. An example of the traditional horse races that still survive is the Palio in Siena that takes place every 16 August. Instead, draft animals, oxen, donkeys, and mules were not used for work but primped with flowers.
The tradition of taking daily excursions for Ferragosto was born during the period of Fascism.
The regime used to organize at a very cheap rate hundred of excursions with trains called “Treni Popolari di Ferragosto”. For some families of the working class this was a great opportunity to take. They could reach and see for the first time in their life the seaside, the mountains or the main historical cities of Italy.
What Italians do for Ferragosto
Falling in the middle of August when most of the main companies close, Ferragosto means holiday for the majority of the Italians.
Most of the people use to reach the seaside resorts to rest in the sun and get the suntan. Others reach the mountains to refresh themselves and breathe a refreshing air, far away from the biggest cities.
Ferragosto is also a day to spend with family or friends, enjoying their company, drinking and eating delicious local food.
Almost everywhere there are local festivals, food feasts, beach parties, banquets, and fireworks. Being the Catholic feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, some seaside resorts also organize a procession of the Blessed Mary by the sea.
The biggest and most known museums as Uffizi or Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence are open to allow tourists to enjoy the beauty of the “Bel paese”. For a complete list of open museums at Ferragosto, click on the page of the “Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo“.
On the beach, a traditional funny custom at the beach was the water balloons fight. Today it is not so common anymore, but when I was young it was very popular. If you did not want to get wet you couldn’t come at the beach in the early afternoon. Moreover, teenagers and college students used to have a naked bath at midnight, as a prank.
Traditional events in Tuscany for Ferragosto
Ferragosto in Tuscany: the rowing race of Monte Argentario
In the blue water in front of the fisherman village of Porto Santo Stefano, in the Mount Argentario Peninsula, a famous rowing race called Palio Marinaro dell’Argentario, takes place.
Instead, the village of Sarteano in the province of Siena, hosts the “Giostra del Saracino”. This event dated back to the 16th century. It consists of an ability tournament where knights representing the five district of the village fight to be the best in town. Before the game, a procession of people in costume parades along the streets.
Angela Merkel wagon in Viareggio Carnival
The Big Neptune wagon in Viareggio Carnival
The seaside resort of Viareggio use to organize a special summer edition of its beautiful and colored Carnival. Along the main road the big papier-mâché wagons paraded while adults and children have fun dancing and singing the songs of the Carnevale. Unfortunately during the last few years this event doesn’t take place.
What to eat for Ferragosto in Tuscany
What to eat for Ferragosto in Tuscany
I guess you think immediately to the fish-fry, but the traditional dish of Ferragosto is, unexpectedly the roasted pigeon. This custom was born in Tuscany at the time of Carolingian dynasty, and if in the past it was common across the whole country, today it still survives only in some areas of the region.
Pitigliano in the south of Tuscany
Another Tuscan typical dish of Ferragosto, originating from the village of Pitigliano in Maremma, is the Biscotto di mezz’agosto – literally “Half August cookie”– a donut with anise flavor, that farmers usually had during the harvest.
Other traditional foods that we use to have at Ferragosto are bruschetta, fish-fry, barbecue with scampi, ribs and sausages, Florentine t-bone steak, pizza, or grilled vegetables.
The typical Bruschetta
Florentine T-bone steak
What about you? What are you doing for Ferragosto? Tell us leaving a comment below!