The Italians love a good festival and there’s certainly not a shortage of them this August. There are thousands of festivals in Italy which celebrate religious holidays, gastronomic specialities, ancient traditions, contemporary music and the performing arts. From local parades to major festivals, the innumerous festa across the country offer great insight into Italian culture and tradition but are mostly, as I suspect the Italians see it (I certainly do), an excellent excuse for a party.
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Ferragosto is an important national holiday in Italy. Celebrated each year on 15 August, it coincides with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption. Businesses across the country close for the weekend (and often for the whole month of August) as everyone heads for the coast to enjoy food, music and fireworks with family and friends.
The public holiday was introduced by emperor Augustus in 18BC as a period of relaxation after the harvest and was later adapted by the Fascist regime in the twenties when short holidays were subsidised for the working classes over 13, 14 and 15 August.
From pot-throwing in Abruzzo to hot air balloons in Molise and Byzantine reenactments in Puglia, the celebrations across the country are spectacular. If you’re going to be in Italy during this period, ask about ferragosto events in the local area and if you’re planning a visit the coast, be sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
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Italian Summer Festivals
Here are some of the classiest, oldest and weirdest national festivals and ferragosto celebrations happening across the country this August.
The Venice Architecture Biennale, 28 May – 27 November
Italy’s art festivals are internationally renowned, the most famous being the Venice Biennale. It was the first event of its kind and since its inauguration in 1895, the Venice Biennale has become the model for many contemporary art festivals around the world.
On odd years, art lovers flock to the Pavilion Gardens for the contemporary art festival, and on even years, the Pavilions become a showcase of international architecture. The Architecture Biennale opened at the end of May, and it’s on until the end of November. The festival coincides with a retrospective exhibition of the career of the late Zaha Hadid. The exhibition is at the beautiful Palazzo Franchetti on the Grand Canal and is not to be missed.
More info: labiennale.org/en/architecture
Estate San Gimignano, 1 June – 30 September
This summer arts and music festival features film screenings and open-air opera performances in the ruins of the Rocca fortress in San Gimignano. The walled hill town is a UNESCO world heritage site characterised by its soaring towers, lending it the name ‘Medieval Manhattan’. Explore the festival programme and book your trip to one of the most gorgeous corners of Tuscany this summer.
More info: sangimignano.com/en/
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Verona Opera Festival, 24 June – 28 August
The Verona Opera Festival is a world-class event and will be in full swing this August. Open air performances take place in Verona’s spectacular Roman amphitheatre. There’s a great choice of popular operas and you can buy tickets for under €20 online. Bring a cushion!
More info: arena.it
Tornado Della Quintana, 7 August
The historic jousting tournament takes place on the first Sunday in August in the elegant town of Ascoli Piceno, Marche. Ascoli’s main square has to be one of the most beautiful in Italy – built entirely from white Travertine marble.
Locals are passionate about keeping their Medieval traditions alive, and thousands take part in this fabulous summer festival of processions, bands, jousting and feasting.
More info: quintanadiascoli.it
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Festa dei Candelieri, 14-15 August
The festival of the candle in Sassari, Sardina, is a quirky celebration dating back to the 16th century. Teams race against each other bearing enormous heavy candles. It’s bizarre and fantastic in equal measure and another reason to visit the beautiful island of Sardina at this time of year.
Festa del Mare, 15 August
The feast of the Assumption is celebrated all over Italy with processions and general jollity, but for a truly spectacular fireworks display head to Diano Marina on the Piedmont coast in Liguria.
Palio del Mare, 15 August
Also in Liguria, Palio del Mare hosts a magical festival for Ferragosto. Hundreds of fishing boats are filled with candles and sent out to sea, lighting up the picturesque cove before a spectacular firework display explodes overhead. A visually beautiful event with a very special atmosphere.
Palio of Siena, 16 August
The spectacle of the Palio in Siena attracts visitors from all over the world and is probably Italy’s most famous festival. The second round of the exhilarating event (the first is on 2 July) sees Siena’s contrade (districts) competing in a high speed, bare back horse race around the Campo. The accompanying pageantry and feasting makes for a brilliant party.
More info: ilpalio.org
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The Miracle Of The White Madonna, 17 August
Every city, town and village has its own patron saint, whose feast day is celebrated with processions, church services and late night partying. In the seaside village of Portovenere, the patron saint is Madonna Bianca or the White Madonna.
The entire village is lit up with over 2000 Roman torches and a torchlit procession snakes through the spaghetti-like streets. It’s a sight to behold, and the atmosphere is magical. Portovenere is a fantastic base for exploring the famous Cinque Terre: a string of colourful fishing villages along the Ligurian coast.
Image Credit: iStock.com/Marco Saracco
Venice Film Festival, 31 August – 10 September
The glamorous film festival in Venice is the oldest film festival in the world and takes place in late August each year.
Held on the Lido, the event attracts big stars, and its prestigious awards are coveted. Tickets get snapped up for the premieres, but day tickets are affordable and allow entrance to all programmed screenings that day. A very special event that any film lover should visit, just once.
More info: labiennale.org/en/cinema
Settimane Musicali di Stresa, 23 August – 6 September
Stresa festival is one of Europe’s best-known classical music festivals. Held on the gorgeous Lake Maggiore, the festival is opening for its 55th year this Summer with an impressive programme of concerts.
More info: stresafestival.eu