Ferragosto is an Italian and Sammarinese public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.
The Feriae Augusti ("Festivals [Holidays] of the Emperor Augustus") were introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The Feriae Augusti, in addition to its propaganda function, linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.
During these celebrations, horse races were organised across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, virtually unchanged in their form and level of participation during the Palio dell'Assunta which takes place on 16 August in Siena. Indeed, the name "Palio" comes from the pallium, a piece of precious fabric which was the usual prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.
The modern Italian name of the holiday comes directly from the Latin name.
According to Richard Overy, author of "A History of War in 100 Battles", the Ferragosto Holiday was introduced by Gaius Octavius 'Augustus' after his victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium on the 2nd of September 31 bce
The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under the Fascist regime. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organised hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organisations of various corporations, and via the setting up of the "People's Trains of Ferragosto", which were available at discounted prices.
The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off social classes to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and comprised two options: the "One-Day Trip", within a radius of 50-100 km, and the "Three-Day Trip" within a radius of about 100–200 km.
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- Michele Ventrella, Gite fuori porta a Ferragosto, Corriere del Mezzogiorno, 14 agosto 2012
- Alberto De Bernardi, Una dittatura moderna: il fascismo come problema storico, Paravia, Milano, 2001