38C (100F) yesterday and a high today of 18C ( 64F) today just to remind us that we are at 1,300 feet and when the cloud covers the sun all day with a brisk northerly wind the temperature plummets. It will certainly have been a surprise for the thousands of northern Italians flooding south this weekend to enjoy the week and especially the Ferragosto holiday on Thursday the 15th. Especially if the forecast is right and we have another dose of cloud and rain on that day also.
The amazing thing about many of these holidays in Italy is the date they go back to . This particular one dates from the Emperor Augustus who decreed the holiday in 18 BC . In fact in true Roman style it wasn’t a one day festival but the Ferriae Augusto lasted almost the whole month and was to allow a period of rest after the harvest. The festival was dedicated to the goddess Diana who was the god of fertility and ripeness. Workers went to thank the landowner for work and in return got a tip.
Because of the female link the Catholic Church took the holiday which by then had been reduced to about 4 days for the Feast of The Assumption of The Virgin Mary on August 15th. Eventually the actual holiday was reduced to one day.
To probably 99% of Italians the day really no longer has any religious connection. Almost all of them are on holiday on that day as part of their long August break and it is a day not for kneeling in a church pew but for heading out to the countryside or the seaside.
In most towns the foreign tourists are almost by themselves wondering where the locals went. Meanwhile in the countryside hundreds of cars drive to huge lunch parties where family and friends eat and drink the day away. After about 5.p.m is not a good time to venture out on to the roads either as a driver or even more dangerously as a cyclist or pedestrian as many people pay scant attention to the draconian Italian drink/drive laws on this day.
There are town events in some places the most famous being the palio horse race in Sienna. But down here in Puglia there is a big festa on the coast in Monopoli just down the hill from Martina Franca . They celebrate the miracle in 1107 when rebuilding of their cathedral had stopped because funds had run out and they could not afford to buy the oak beams to make the roof. In a series of visions the Virgin Mary appeared to a trainee monk and said the beams were arriving at the harbour. He and the townspeople rushed there to find a raft had floated in made with enough big beams to finish the project. On the raft was nothing but an icon of the Virgin Mary and Child. On the 15th evening the raft is recreated and floated around the harbour with a copy of the icon and accompanied by hundreds of swimmers carrying torches.
But as this started as a Roman holiday we have to finish with a little Life of Brian don’t we.