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Roman summer holidays and Ferragosto – past and present

In ancient times August was the month after harvest when various pagan festivals were held and set apart for rest and gratitude. Traditions may have changed with the passing of millennia but modern Romans still cherish August as the time to escape from the heat to the sea, the mountains, or wherever else their hearts desire for summer holidays.

Sacred Feasts of August – Nemoralia for Diana and Assunzione di Maria

Nemoralia or Festival of Torches dedicated to the goddess Diana was celebrated around the August full moon and the rite is still part of a festival celebrated in the Alban Hills at the Lake of Nemi – or Diana’s Mirror. This was a time of rest for women and according to the poet Ovid it was a practice from olden days. Women would wreath their hair with flowers and make a procession of torches through the nemus or sacred grove.  Wishes were tied with ribbons to trees and offerings of fruit or small figurines were made. Eventually the date of the ceremony became August 15 and was, when Roman Catholicism became the ruling force, turned into the Feast of the Assumption, which commemorates the day the Virgin Mary was taken into heaven. This year the Angelus, the Papal blessing, will be celebrated on August 15 from 12pm in Saint Peter’s Square and we also have tours of the Vatican and the piazza and Basilica.

Ferragosto – a day off for all workers from Augustus to today

August 15 is also Ferragosto, a holiday for the workers established by Augustus Caesar in 18BC. Originally part of a series of pagan holidays that were a rest time (feriale) in August after the intense activities of the summer harvests, the day is still cherished as a free day by modern Romans. During the fascist period the gita fuori porta (a trip outside the doors of the city) was promoted as a way for all Italians to enjoy their country and train fares were heavily discounted. Even today reduced rates or special travel offers are available over the long weekend ponte (this year the “bridge'” would be people taking Monday August 14 off to make an extra long weekend). The traditional way to spend Ferragosto was (and still is) a day at the beach or a picnic with friends and family. The holiday is of such importance to the collective consciousness of Italians that it has been the subject of songs and film.

Tivoli – a day out of town

If you’re in Rome during August and considering escaping the city heat on your own gita fuori porta, an option is to do as ancient and Renaissance Romans did and visit Tivoli. Situated 30 kilometres outside of Rome and high on a hill, it was once the resort town where ancient Romans could enjoy the cooler air and the views over the countryside. It offers several UNESCO sites to explore, including Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa D’Este with its Renaissance garden and cleverly engineered water amusement park. We have a tour to Tivoli that includes both these sites.

Ostia Antica – a day by the old sea port

If you prefer being closer to the sea you could visit Ostia Antica, the ancient sea port of Rome that has ruins to rival those of Pompeii but only a short trip from Rome and a quick hop to the beaches of modern Ostia. Our tour will show you the old city and our tour guides will give you ideas for beaches in the area.

Park of the Aqueducts – a picnic in the park

If you would like a taste of the Roman countryside, there is the Park of the Aqueducts where you could have a picnic and with our tour see some of the latest archaeological finds that have been discovered there.

Capitoline Museums – cool air and history in town

If you are curious about more of the foundations, traditions and habits of Roman life and prefer to stay in air conditioned comfort we have a tour of the Capitoline Museums hosted by our resident archaeologist.

Estate Romana – archaeology and music

The traditional concerts and shows for Summer in Rome are different every year.  These shows are on each night until September and here is a list of the performances: estate romana . Free shows are mixed with ones that need tickets to be prebooked

For Your Information

For August 15 all major sites and museums are open. Public transport will work on the weekend timetable so Metro A and B will run until 1.30am on Wednesday morning. Please note though that there are works being done on the Metro A line between Termini and Arco di Travertino until September 3. This part of the subway service is replaced by the MA4 shuttle bus and follows the same route as the Metro line.

Our licensed and knowledgeable guides are spending their August in Rome and are happy to share  tips on how to cool off and make the best of your summer days!