Romans love August. They also hate August. August means summer vacation, but it also means hot, sweaty days, the temporary closure of one’s favorite restaurants, and the influx of millions of tourists.
In Italy, August means Ferragosto. Falling on August 15, Ferragosto is known as the summer holiday. Most Italians plan their summer holidays around Ferragosto, shutting down shop, packing up the family, and heading to the beach, mountains, or their ancestral villages for a few weeks.
Whether the mid-August break is celebrated as Ferragosto or as the religious holiday known as the Assumption of Mary—more commonly celebrated as the latter in the south—the impetus to go on a summer holiday is the same.
Romans typically use the old pagan name Ferragosto and adopt a libertine attitude towards the holiday, taking long breaks on either side of the fifteenth or even taking the whole month of August off.
I’ve talked about what a traveler needs to have when visiting Italy in August. But after having spent many a long, hot summer in Rome, I feel compelled to share the reasons why Romans love and hate Rome in August.
Rome is hot.
Yes, it’s summer. But there’s a certain infernal quality to Rome’s heat. It’s hot and dry, yet sticky. The nights are cooler but then the wind stands still.
Sure, many places (offices and malls) have A/C here. But many (cafes, small restaurants, apartments) do not. Italians are very suspicious of A/C, claiming it can make you sick. I think Americans overdo it with A/C and that it can, to a point, make you sick (and make your electric bill go through the roof). But without a constant stream of A/C in Rome, you’re going to have trouble cooling off.
Rome is empty in August. At least, its neighborhoods are.
This is a double-edged sword. While you can find a parking space almost anywhere, it’s not always easy to find a decent place to eat. Rome empties out in the summer but especially in August.
Signs go up in late July detailing the terms of the owner’s holiday: “Chiuso per Ferie, 1-31 Agosto” is not an uncommon thing to see in residential neighborhoods. You’ll encounter a lot of shuttered businesses in tourist areas, too.
Rome (and Italy) is defined as much by its people as it is by its monuments. So when tumbleweeds are rolling down the street, this place is like a ghost town.
Rome is wild.
If you have spent time in Rome in late summer, it is not hard to believe that the Roman Forum was a cow field for hundreds of years, from the late 5th centuryuntil the 19th century.
Rome gets overgrown in the summer and the local authorities have a really hard time keeping up with all of the weeds, brush, and vines growing in medians, out of sidewalk cracks, and around ruins and parks.
I haven’t decided if I love or hate this part of the Roman summer, as there is something very savage about it all. It makes you realize that nature will always win.
That said, we won’t talk about sanitation workers’ laissez-faire attitude about trash pick-up during the summer…
Rome has outdoor movies!
Pity the poor Romans who have to stay in town during August. But also know that there are several places to go watch outdoor movies, including at the Villa Borghese, in Trastevere, and on Tiber Island. You can catch everything from an old classic to a superhero film, many in their original language (which often means English), under the stars.
August in Rome is great because September is right around the corner.
The best thing about August in Rome is knowing that September follows it.
In the past, I started lamenting in July that summer was coming to a close. But Romans have a much healthier attitude toward fall (and all seasons).
September is particularly wonderful because the weather starts to cool and the tourist crowds start to thin. But it is also a delight because there is a sense of renewal. After everyone takes their August break, they come back to work with a spring in their step and with smiles for their co-workers and neighbors.
The difference between late summer grumbles and early September chatter is remarkable and really makes a strong case for taking long holidays.