Ferragosto: Italians take Flight

W.C. Fields, the late American comedian-actor of vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood, once summarized his feelings about his hometown by stating, “Last week, I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.”

WC Fields in Top Hat ©2004 Universal Studios

He was, of course, referring to the City of Brotherly Love’s lack of nightlife at the time and not inferring disdain for his birthplace.

I could easily rewrite Mr. Fields’ line and state, “This week, I am in Vicenza, but it is closed.” Let me explain.

This is the time of year when Italian urban areas turn into ghost towns as just about everyone loads up his/her car, squeezes the family into the backseat, puts pedal to metal and guns it out of Dodge.

The annual flight of Italians away from the cities and up into the mountains and along the seacoast is known as Ferragosto (Festival of August), so named in honor of the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus.

Assumption of the Virgin by El Greco (1577)More recently, the Vatican proclaimed August 15th as a Holy Day of Obligation to recognize the Feast of the Assumption, the arrival into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because Italy is a predominately Roman Catholic country, this single religious holiday eventually became the epicenter of this week-before, week-after nationwide migration and its associated business closures.

As the summer nears Ferragosto, more and more Italians take their one, two or maybe even three-week vacation at this time.

This is also the period when just about all businesses – government offices, banks, museums, supermarkets, gas stations, etc. – pull back on their operating hours or simply pull down the shades and hang a big CHIUSO (closed) sign in the window. Some shopkeepers even display handwritten notes explaining that they’re awfully sorry that they missed you, but that they’ve gone fishin’ and won’t return until pigs fly.

Ferragosto public works | ©Tom Palladio Images

Misery loves company, right? Well, just to add a little more heartache, along with the gigantic departure gate that is Ferragosto, it’s also the time of year when city administrations – those still at the desk – take advantage of their self-proclaimed “low season” and fly into action, and off the handle, with countless public works projects.

Here in the City of Palladio that means a traffic nightmare — for those of us left behind — just shy of biblical proportions. There are so many “men at work” and “don’t go this way/that way” signs that my GPS, once I arrive safely at home, is still “recalculating” hours after I’ve parked my car for the night.

Cobblestoned side streets – the kind I really like –  and main roadways are uprooted to make way for new roundabouts, gas and water lines or just repaving with hot, sticky, dark-as-night asphalt.

Backhoes, bulldozers, dump trucks and guys manning jackhammers belt out, in unison, a rhythmical hard-knock beat all around town. Unfortunately, I become an unwanted audience member at one of these Stomp-like urban concertos as I can actually feel the jackhammer soloist’s vibrations under my dining room chair.

Ferragosto: Italians take Flight | ©Tom Palladio Images

Ahh, Ferragosto, Italy’s annual exodus to hillsides and seasides for those with the means of escape, but dreaded by those of us just stuck in place. Question is, whom do I blame for my predicament? Myself? Emperor Augustus? The Catholic Church? City Hall?

Aw, what the heck. I’ll just pack a bag, catch a flight to Philly and see how Mr. Fields is getting along.

©The Palladian Traveler



  1. I don’t visit my home land in the summer any more. Everything is closed, the only things open are the establishments for tourists with high prices, my friends are on vacation, my family is gone too and I can’t shop. I go to Italy in low seasons, when everybody is working and I am on vacation.

  2. So true Tom! I just noticed that my local filling station is closed and my favourite restaurant will remain boarded up until the end of August. Even the dry-cleaner can’t clean the rug I dropped off until the beginning of September! Everyone raises their hands, palm upwards, and with a Gallic shrug exclaims “Agosto!!”

  3. Great article. The cities may be quiet but the beaches are damn busy! July and the September are the perfect months for a seaside sojourn!

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