Updated in August 2018
Ferragosto is an ancient Roman holiday called Feriae Augusti. This term refers to the holiday season proclaimed by the Roman emperor Augustus in the year 18 BC. Originally, the Romans celebrated their grand summer feast on August 1. Later, it was shifted to August 15 by the Catholic church to fuse the pagan feast with a Catholic one, La Festa dell’ Annunziata (Assumption of Mary).
Feriae as a plural noun indicates that not just one day is taken off but rather a longer period. So there’s a good reason why in Italy, summer holidays in Italy take place in August, the month of emperor Augustus. But then, there’s a very practical reason for taking off a few days or weeks in August from work: Look at the weather … it’s far too hot, and the beaches are so tempting ..
In a way, Italian families all look forward to Ferragosto, when it is warm day and night, and people leave the cities to go to the beaches and enjoy outdoor life. In Venice, summer starts – palpably – on the Redentore weekend. It does inaugurate summer in Venice after all. This is the time when Venetians, who stay in town, retire to the beach huts on the Lido, or else, leave the city for the Dolomiti mountains.
You could also celebrate Ferragosto from another perspective. With the colors of the Lagoon getting clearer and more intense from mid-August, benefit from the balmy days the fifth season regales us in Venice. This is the mild face of summer, when walking around town will be rewarding, if you know where to go and what to do. So if you’re in Venice right now, we’ve got a few recommendations for you. They are all easy walks. and we recommend that you go exploring early in the morning, it will be very hot later!
Venezia sotto le stelle cadenti: The night of the shooting stars in the Lagoon: Watch the Perseid meteor shower over the southern Lagoon, with a view of the open sea and of Venice across the dunes from Pellestrina, at the Birdlife Oasis, Oasi Lipu di Ca’Roman. In Venice, we call this night La Notte di San Lorenzo and one could say it inaugurates the cyle of the Italian summer feast, Ferragosto.
If you are in Venice, you might consider joining Venetian hobby astronomers and spend this evening on Pellestrina island, at the Bird Watching Oasis Ca’ Roman, on Saturday, 11 August (19:30 pm at their info point) Take a look at the program for 2018.
In addition to looking out for the stars, you will learn a lot about nature in the southern Lagoon, and the birds! Click here to learn more about the Oasi Naturale LIPU a Ca’Roman.
Discover more about the life of Marco Polo on an early morning walk. Speaking of San Lorenzo … why not take a look at church and convent dedicated to him in Venice. The convent was founded in 823 AD by the Partecipazio Family in the ancient Levantine Quarter of Venice, on Rio dei Greci.
Marco Polo and his family (father and uncle) might be buried in this church, located not far from their home at San Giovanni Crisostomo in Corte de’ Milion. By the way – did you know that Teatro Malibran, adjacent to Corte de’ Milion, was built on what remained of Marco Polo’s birth house?
Savor Ferragosto Food, we will share the menu in our Monthly Postcard from Venice! On those really hot days in summer, Venetians love warm pasta salads made from herbs and zucchine, melanzane and spicy peppers (frigitelli). Granseola is our sea food favorite for this big summer holiday. Grandmother Lina prepares it as cold lunch with home-made mayonnaise and curry-mustard seed flavored carrots and tomato-parsley salad.
We will send our next email magazine to subscribers on 15 August, and it will include our Venetian family menu for Ferragosto. Click on the image below to sign up for yours!
Eat a dessert Marco Polo would have known so well … Yes, by now, there are restaurants in Venice cooking historical dishes. Bistrot de Venise was first in Venice to offer menus based on recipes of the 13th-17th century. It is possible in Venice to eat a menu Marco Polo would have known (and loved!), after all.
I love Bistrot de Venise at lunch, and sit outside in their cool courtyard opening up on a quiet canal. There are a few degustation menus, but make sure you try one of their summer desserts made from wood berries. After all, the woods of the Dolomiti are not far away..
In general, rsetaurants now cook with ingredients now harvested in the Veneto, or rather, in the Lagoon. In August, you can taste uva fragola, those succulent dark blue grapes often growing in secret Venetian courtyards and in the Venetian estuary, or the omnipresent fichi – figs. All these fruit go into dream-like fluffy, orange sugar-scented cakes, baked by grandmothers in Venice :-)
Enjoy breakfast at the Rialto Market. Yes, that’s possible even in August, many bancarelle (stalls) are open, and that’s also true for the Pescaria (Fish Market) ..
Come around 8:30 am, and it won’t be too hot to sit on the banks of the Grand Canal. You could also return later for a second breakfast, around 10:30am, and taste some of the best bruschette and tramezzini in town, freshly sourced from the Pescaria. Of course, there will also be freshly baked fruit tarts available :-)