The date I arrived in Italy in the early 70’s was August 15th. It was my first visit and I knew nothing about Italian customs back then.
I quickly realized to my dismay that nothing was open for business.....no restaurants, bars, pharmacies, fruit vendors, taxis, buses, trains, etc etc. You get the idea.
I felt like I was watching the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Luckily the one place that was open was the 3 star hotel in Milan that I managed to book myself into the day before and it was at that hotel that I first heard the strange word “Ferragosto”. I went on to discover that while millions of Italians take their two week (minimum) summer holiday in August......ALL Italians are sure to be on holiday on the 15th!! It is just part of their DNA.
The Catholic Church claims Ferragosto as one of it’s solemn celebrations calling it the Feast of the Assumption, which marks the day Mary ascended into heaven.
However, the celebration actually goes back to Roman times.......18BC to be exact.....when Caesar Augustus , the first Roman emperor, named the festival day after himself — Feriae Augusti -in celebration of a battle victory, no doubt.
Even Mussolini staked a claim to Ferragosto......with his fascist regime organizing hundreds of travel offers to the working classes that allowed them to visit different parts of the country.
I have spent many “Ferragostos” in Italy since the early 70’s and I have come to realize that whichever explanation of the holiday Italians cling to they all agree on one thing: August 15th marks mid-summer and it is a day to close up shop and chill.
BTW.....when the city of Florence is empty I love taking a walk to one of my favorite spots called "Fontana dello Sprone" .....it mesmerizes me.