Like many things in Italy, the history of today’s countrywide holiday reaches back not 200, but 2,000, years, named Ferragosto after the Latin Feriae Augusti, meaning “Augustus’ Rest.” Today its tradition has continued on every August 15th (conveniently also the Feast of the Assumption) as a national day of rest every year during which Italians flock in large numbers to the seaside – to launch customary water balloons at each other – or day trip destination of their choice to enjoy the last bit of summer bliss.
But it isn’t just this Augustan day that calls for a break the everyday grindstone that is daily life. In fact, the entire month of August is a time of festivities in the Bel Paese, and as much of the population takes extended holidays, the number of parties greatly increase and special events are organized commemorating just about every aspect of Italian life or history imaginable. Centrally located Tuscany, this region actually boasts some of the most established of these events, constructed around the regions’ history, competitive nature and, of course, wine. Here are some that you’ll want to add to your Italian Agosto list.
Calici di Stelle
Held on August 10, the night of the legendary falling stars of San Lorenzo, “Chalices Under the Stars” is a festival for oenophiles as well as art and music lovers alike, harmonizing art with sounds of the best of Italy’s music and the most lauded of its wines. This event in particular is a star in Montepulciano, and the wines of the region are known for their impressive structure and elegance, sweeping their sippers away this year as the 200-year old notes of Giuseppe Verdi filled the air.
The medieval town of Siena takes a leap back in time every July 2 and August 16 for its main stage event, the Palio. With roots in a competitive horse race between noblemen to civilly settle feuds, today the town randomly chooses and assigns horses to 10 of its 17 zones, or contrade. Jockeys from each zone prepare the morning of the big race, complete with religious rites, a parade that shuts the city down, and colorful costumes designating each individual contrada. The 90-second race around the city’s main piazza draws audiences from around the world and makes for one of the most exciting and unique experiences in any Italian or foreigner’s Ferragosto vacation.
Bravio delle Botti
Just south of Siena back in Montalcino, the town keeps up the excitement the week after Ferragosto with the Bravio delle Botti from the 17-25 of August. Decked in their medieval garb and ready to compete, the eight contrade of Montepulciano compete to win the coveted “Bravio,” a banner bearing the image of the city’s patron. The best part of the whole thing is that not only do you feel like you are walking back into the Middle Ages, but the competition itself involves the representatives of the contrade pushing heavy “botti” (very large wooden wine barrels traditionally made from Slovenian oak) up the winding hills to end in the Piazza Grande. Onlookers of the parade and competition enjoy an inordinate amount of what is some of the best wine in Italy, of course. A perfect mix of history, oenology, and that good old Italian Ferragosto fun.
What kind of Ferragosto fun do you partake in?