Public holidays vary depending by country, and Italy traditionally has had a large shutdown period through August based around Ferragosto which falls today, on 15 August.
Dating back to 18 BC the holiday was introduced by Emperor Augustus as a rest and celebration period following the previous weeks of hard work in harvesting crops.
From the 1920s people started to take trips, often to the seaside or mountains for their summer holidays. Special offers were introduced for the period of 13-15 August to encourage people to take their holiday.
The Catholic Church use Ferragosto to commemorate the Assumption of Virgin Mary – before the Catholic Church existed it was used as a day to honour gods.
Those working in Italy typically now use Ferragosto as a bridging day to give a long holiday weekend. It is widely accepted by those working in Italy, or with business in Italy that the week either side of Ferragosto is quiet for business and it can be difficult to reach people in this period.
In less touristy areas of Italy, it is not uncommon for family run restaurants and cafes to shut for several weeks whilst the family holiday at the seaside. However, in areas which are more populated you will find busy restaurants with Italian families and tourists celebrating Ferragosto.