Originally, it was the day marking the middle of summer and the end of hard harvesting labour in the fields. In time, the Church adopted this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into the heavens.
Most Italians go away for this holiday and the cities empty out while the beaches and coasts fill up. Everyone is at the beach, preparing for the night’s feast, fireworks, and camp-out under the stars. This means that Perugia has been pretty dead, and it's nice to feel like you have the city to yourself but also nice to not feel like there's nothing to do because everything is closed. Some museums are open on Ferragosto and churches will be busy with services. Although cities are half empty, resourceful travellers will find plenty of interesting things to do on this day. Here are some 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 (The Donatello pulpit depicts dancing putti all around, and has been replaced by a copy on the exterior corner of the Duomo; go inside the 'Museo del Duomo' it should be open to see the real thing.)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 and setting off fireworks.5) Go 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! (I'm a little sarcastic here...)
Actually typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh, raw vegetables and fruit to ward off the heat. Cold beverages, fruit salads, cold pasta and Pomodori al Riso are almost always on the menu.
Roadside stands selling whole watermelons and/or chilled slices of the fruit are a summer feature throughout Italy. The hand painted signs on country roadside stalls may read the word 'anguria,' but the dialectal term cocomero is watermelon’s name in Rome and its vicinities.
6) The archaeological museums of the province of Bologna are, with only one exception, open this year for Ferragosto.
7) If in Rome, go to the Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival.
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 Cathedral of any city or town.
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