By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com
Cruising from Venice to the Black Sea in mid July few years ago, we docked at the port of Patras in Greece for a few hours. Since the ship stopped only for refurbishments, most passengers decided to stay on board by the pool. With our Italian friends we decided to go ashore only to find out that very few tourists were around. We stopped by a café and had a long awaited espresso. We were perplexed as to why the lack of business in July for this café owner in what I though was the peak of peak season. Obviously, we asked what was happening. Since he heard us speaking Italian he replied in Italian: “Stiamo aspettando che arrivano gli Italiani per il Ferragosto.” Che fortuna!
In just a few words, the café owner waits a whole year to do a bustling business for few weeks in August thanks to the Italians going to Greece for their summer escape.
It seems that all of Italy stops to celebrate Ferragosto.
During Roman Times:
Ferragosto started during the Roman times around 18 BC under Emperor Augustus to celebrate “Feriae Augusti” the harvest at the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor and under a very hot summer sun.
The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under Mussolini regime. In the latter part of the 1920’s, during the second half of August, the regime organized hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations of various corporations. During this period of mass exodus from the cities, Mussolini increased train schedules and discounted the train fares for all. (By the way, the trains all ran on time!) This initiative gave opportunity to the less well-off social classes to reach the seaside and mountain resorts.
Post World War:
After World War II, the big manufacturing companies the likes of Fiat, Pirelli, and many others, were operating at full capacity thanks in part to the Italian Economic boom of the late 50’s and 60’s. The dilemma for the industrialist was that, by allowing their employees to take vacations at various times, caused a severe slowdown of production in the summer months. They welcomed Ferragosto and closed down the production lines for the entire vacation period of two weeks. By shutting down the factories they saved money and had 100% efficiency when all the employees returned to the assembly lines in September.
Today the Italian economy is less dependent on manufacturing and shifting more towards the service industries and needs not to close down the shop for two weeks in August any longer. I’m advocating for “Ferrestate” so that the Italian workforce will take their summer vacation at any time from June to September.
In so doing the tourism industry will benefit economically and my poor Greek Café owner friend in Patras will be busy for 4 full months each year instead of just two weeks.
Stay tuned – we should soon rethink “La Settimana Bianca”
Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.