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ITALY EXPLAINED

Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

Why is August 15th a holiday? The Local looks at the history behind Ferragosto, and how you can celebrate the day like an Italian.

Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy's national summer holiday
Vacationers sunbathe at a private beach near Santa Margherita Ligure, southern Genova. In future, prices of sunbeds could be capped for beachgoers. (Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP)

What are we celebrating?

As far as many people in Italy are concerned, August 15th is the height of summer – and that in itself is worth celebrating.

But the holiday has a very long history.

August 15th is when Catholics celebrate the Assumption, or the ascendance of the Virgin Mary into heaven. However, it was a holiday in Italy long before it took on a religious significance.

Ferragosto, the Italian name for the holiday, comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti (the festivals of the Emperor Augustus) which were introduced back in 18 BC, probably to celebrate a battle victory, and were celebrated alongside other ancient Roman summer festivals. These festivities were linked to the longer Augustali period – intended to be a period of rest after months of hard labour.

Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

In Roman times, the celebrations included horse races. Even today, Siena’s Palio dell’Assunta usually takes place on August 16th.

The holiday now combines both its ancient Roman and Catholic roots with marking the semi-official peak of Italy’s summer holiday season.

Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Where’s everybody gone?

It’s traditional to use the August long weekend to take a trip out of the city, usually escaping the heat at the seaside, lakes or mountains, so if you stay in town you’ll notice it’s much quieter than usual.

During the era of Fascism, the regime would organise trips with special offers for the 13th-15th August, the idea being that less well-off workers would get the opportunity to visit a different part of the country.

READ ALSO: Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

Even today there are often discounts on packages for the Ferragosto weekend – though you may find that train tickets and hotel rooms sell out fast.

And of course, many Italian families go away on longer vacations at this time of year too.

Will everything be closed?

If you didn’t have the foresight to book a trip of your own, you may be wondering how to make the most of the day.

Usually, bank holidays mean total shutdown even in major towns and cities, with everything from post offices to public transport closed, and that’s the same on August 15th.

And as we mentioned earlier it’s the start of Italy’s holiday season, meaning you’ll see ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs popping up all over the place.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

However, unlike many other public holidays, on Ferragosto a large number of museums and cultural sites remain open.

So it’s an excellent time to visit major attractions such as the Colosseum, Pantheon or Galleria Borghese if you’re in the capital, or one of the many museums and sites across the rest of Italy.

Ferragosto is also usually celebrated with special church services and religious processions, as well as fireworks displays and other events.

While these were cancelled over the precious two summers due to Covid-19, events and gatherings can go ahead restriction-free this year.

But the most traditional way to celebrate of all is with a big family lunch.

For this reason, you’ll see many restaurants remain open on this date, at least at lunchtime, and may even offer special Ferragosto menus for the occasion.

Member comments

  1. Funny thing is: in all my time spent in Italy, the 15th August always had the feeling of the ‘beginning of the end’ of the long summer holidays. A special day, with that hint of sadness that soon it will be all over and it’s back to work and school.

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CRIME

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

From robbery and vehicle theft to cyber fraud and blackmail, where are you most likely to be a victim of crime in Italy? Here are the country’s latest crime figures.

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

While Italy is among the safest countries in the world – it ranked 32nd out of 163 in the latest Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace – crime is a concern in many parts of the boot, especially in big cities. 

Milan is by far the Italian city with the highest crime rate, according to data from Italy’s Department of Public Security collated in a report by financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Altogether, as many as 193,700 crimes were reported in the city in 2021 – that’s nearly 6,000 reported crimes for every 100,000 residents. 

But while Milan takes the unenviable title of Italy’s ‘crime capital’, things aren’t much better in other major cities as Turin (3rd overall), Bologna (4th), Rome (5th), Florence (7th) and Naples (10th) all figure in the top 10. 

Italy's crime map in 2021

Milan is Italy’s ‘crime capital’, followed by Rimini and Turin. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

The top of the table is completed by smaller and, perhaps, slightly unassuming Italian cities, namely Rimini (2nd), Imperia (6th), Prato (8th) and Livorno (9th).

READ ALSO: What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?

That said, while the overall crime rate ranking shows us Italy’s crime hotspots, it doesn’t provide any insight into the types of offences committed, which is why it is worth looking into single-offence rankings. 

For instance, Milan, Rimini and Rome are the top Italian cities when it comes to theft-related offences, with all three locations registering well over 2,000 reported thefts per 100,000 residents in 2021. 

Crime card for Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital city, Rome, has the fifth-highest crime rate in the country. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

But while these cities remain the country’s overall theft capitals, other Italian cities seem to have their own ‘theft specialisation’. 

For example, Ravenna ranks first for home burglaries, while Naples and Barletta are first for motorcycle and car thefts respectively. 

As for other types of offences, the northern city of Trieste is first for sexual violence (as many as 25 reported crimes per 100,000 residents) and attempted murder, whereas Gorizia is the worst Italian city when it comes to cyber fraud and online scams. 

Finally, Biella ranks first for blackmail and extortion, while La Spezia is Italy’s ‘drug-dealing capital’.

Trieste's crime card, Italy

Trieste is the worst Italian city in terms of sexual violence offences. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

Il Sole 24 Ore’s report however shows that Italy registered far fewer crimes in 2021 than it did in 2019, especially in big cities.

Notably, in Florence and Venice the number of reported crimes was down by 24.6 and 17.8 percent respectively.

READ ALSO: Rome shooting: What was behind attack that killed friend of Italy’s PM?

It should be pointed out, however, how the presence of Covid-related social restrictions throughout the first half of 2021 likely contributed in some measure to the overall drop in reported crime. 

It’s also worth noting that, in spite of such measures, some smaller Italian provinces still experienced significantly negative trends, with Piacenza, Isernia and Rieti all registering higher crime rates compared to 2019.

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