August is a great time to find a festival in Italy. Look for brightly-colored posters for a festa or sagra, which is a festival celebrating local culinary traditions. Many Italians take vacations in August, often to the seaside, so you're more likely to find festivals there, and you may run across a medieval festival that includes people dressed in period costumes.
Throughout Italy, many summer music festivals and outdoor concerts are held in August—you might just stumble across one, especially on a weekend. Here are some of the most popular holidays, festivals, and events in August in Italy.
August 15, Ferragosto (Assumption Day), is a national holiday that marks the peak of the summer vacation season. Many Italians begin or end their vacations around this day, so many businesses and shops will be closed. You'll find celebrations in many places in Italy on August 15 and the days before and after, often including music, food, and fireworks. In some big cities like Rome and Milan, however, the city will empty out as Italians leave the city for the beaches and mountains.
Ascoli Piceno, in central Italy's Le Marche region, holds a historic jousting tournament on the second Saturday of July and the first Sunday in August. The tournament, which has ancient roots in Ascoli Piceno, was re-established in the 1950s and is now one of the best medieval festivals in the Marche. The six sestiere, or quarters, of Ascoli Piceno participate and each quarter decorates its buildings with their insignias. The jousting is preceded by a huge parade with flag-wavers, drum corps and people dressed in 15th-century costume.
This raucous race of handmade rowboats takes places between the 13 maritime villages that border the Bay of La Spezia on the Ligurian Sea. It's held the first Sunday in August in the water off the promenade in La Spezia, with a fireworks show to cap off the night. The party starts in the days leading up to the race, with a display of the boats and a dinner, plus an awards presentation the day after the race.
In the tiny Tuscan hill town of Montisi, this festival of medieval games is held the Sunday afternoon closest to August 5. First there's a costumed parade, followed by a tournament of knights representing the four contrade, or neighborhoods, of the town, which all compete for a banner. The week leading up to the tournament is busy with open-air, communal dinners, entertainment, and events in town. The narrow streets of the town are bedecked with banners and flags, and a festive air pervades.
The second round of the famous race in Siena is August 16 (the first takes place July 2). Ten of Siena's 17 contrade, or districts, compete in an exciting bareback horse race around Siena's central piazza. The winner gets the silk palio, or banner. Siena gets very crowded around the time of the Palio so plan ahead if you're going – it's virtually impossible to make an impromptu trip to Siena for this event, as hotels and rental apartments are booked up to a year or more in advance for race day.
Palio delle Pupe
In Cappelle sul Tavo near Pescara, this historic, multi-day festival, culminates on August 15 with a most unusual event. Specially designed pupe, or female effigies drawn on carts, are wheeled into the town sports field. Fireworks launch from different parts of their bodies until the grand finale, when a pinwheel firework is launched from each effigy's head. The most spectacular effigy and fireworks display wins the tournament for that year. The tradition is thought to relate to ancient fertility rites and, more practically, to the custom of keeping scarecrow-like figures in the fields around town.
Festa della Madonna della Neve
Celebrated on August 5 in Rome, the Festival of the Madonna of the Snow celebrates a miraculous summer snowfall in the fourth century that prompted the building of the Santa Maria Maggiore Church, one of Rome's main churches. The festival includes music, light projections, and a midnight reenactment of the snowfall that creates a surreal atmosphere on a warm summer evening. Read more about the Madonna of the Snow Festival and other summer festivals in Rome.
La Fuga del Bove (Escape of the Ox), is a colorful three-week festival in the Umbrian town of Montefalco, near Perugia. There's a full calendar of events, including processions in historic costumes, traditional music, regional cuisine and, of course, lots of wine. Activities include drumming and flag-waving, and a crossbow competition among the town's four quarters. At the culmination of the festivities, the "escaped" ox is caught and paraded around a ring by dozens of participants.
Festa dei Candelieri
Sardinia's most important religious festival is held August 14 in Sassari, on the northwestern side of the island. The festival commemorates the Madonna Assunta, who delivered Sassari from the plague in the 1600s. It involves townspeople carrying candelieri, which are oversized wooden columns that represent candlesticks, through the town in a race that is witnessed by as many as 100,000 onlookers. So significant is the Fest dei Candelieri that it is counted as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
During August, you'll find outdoor music performances in many cities and towns, usually in the main piazza. Here are some of the biggest music and performing arts festivals in August:
Estate Romana is a festival of music and performing arts in Rome during the summer. Look for information in the tourist office or on posters in Rome. Also in Rome, Castel Sant'Angelo has music and entertainment every evening through August 15.
Estate Fiorentina has performances throughout the summer in Florence.
Summer opera in Verona is in full swing. See Italy's Top Opera Houses for more information.
Venice International Film Festival, a huge international film festival on the Lido starts in late August. See International Film Festivals in Italy
Settimane Musicali di Stresa, four weeks of concerts in Stresa on Lago Maggiore start in late August.
Article updated by Elizabeth Heath.
Based on the original article by Martha Bakerjian.