“Italian holidays”: from the ancient Romans to the contemporary ones.

Story of an eternal love for leisure

“The worker is entitled to paid annual leave and cannot renounce it.” It was 1948 and article 36 of the Italian Republic Constitution sanctioned compulsory vacations. As from the early 1927 there was talk of a generic right to rest, but only after World War II people started talking about the famous vacation. However, the path to achieving one of the most struggling (and coveted) rights of the working class has been long and full of changes.

As is known, in ancient Rome, the richest population from time to time left the big cities to take refuge in the great domus and to spend their days between nature and fun. At the same time, all people, regardless of income, prestige and gender, could use the spa: calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium by tempering the body and relaxing the mind.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and up to the “century of enlightenment”, holidays in the city or abroad lose their importance, but they came back in vogue in the 18th century as the exclusive reserve of the great elites through the ” Grand Tour “(of which our word tourism), an expression first used by the English canon Richard Lassel in his The Voyage of Italy. In this book from 1670, Lassel recounts his five trips to the Peninsula and invites to follow his footsteps, convinced that every scholar in art and architecture must necessarily know Italy, and that each future Lordmust spend a period abroad to learn about economy, culture and politics of other areas of the world. Even our Florence was the destination of noble heirs from all over Europe, but also of authors who have printed in their works the history (realist or fictional) of their “Florentine holidays”: from the Fiesole hills of Anatole France and E. M. Forster to the corners of the city described in the verses by Elizabeth Barret Browning (to whose memory, the museum of the Casa Guidi in Oltrarno is dedicated).

During the same period, “common mortals” were happy to make the most of what cities and the surrounding landscape had to offer, preferably at little or no cost. For example, already in the mid-nineteenth century in Florence there were five bathing establishments on the banks of the Arno, the “sea” of people who could not go on vacation. In the Prato area, for example, was the Vagaloggia public bath; in San Niccolò there were two others, the “buca del Centro” (in the Torrigiani Garden) and the Fiaschiaio bath in Molina dei Renai. Two other baths, known above all for the danger of the river in its surroundings, were those of Molina di S. Niccolò and Zecca Vecchia.

On the Tuscan coast, and more precisely in Livorno, Bagni Beretti opened its doors in 1781, a closed building divided into four rooms, into which the sea water was pumped through a mechanical system. But to see the first bath establishments in Italy we have to go north, but always staying in Tuscany. In 1828 in Viareggio were opened the Dori baths for women and Nereo for men. And again towards the Livorno coast, in the following years the Palmieri Baths (1845) and the Scoglio della Regina (1846) opened, located right where Maria Luisa di Borbone, protected by some curtains, had bathed almost half a century earlier.

In the 20th century in Italy, prototypes of future mass vacations began to be seen through the creation of the OND (Opera del Dopolavoro), an instrument of the fascist dictatorship to increase control over the population through the planning of the free time. Thus many tourist structures were born, especially in the sea areas (also thanks to the promotion of heliotherapy, sun protection), ready to receive groups of young people and adults. For the occasion, trains are organized at affordable prices to allow the movement of a large number of people.

However, over the years, we have gone from the idea of health to fun, and vacations have become a moment of relaxation and entertainment for families, the reward of a hard work year. With the Italian industrial revolution and increased welfare, mass tourism was born, that between the fifties and sixties it developed more and more thanks to the coexistence of several factors: the increased in income, the strengthening of the motorway network, the increase in public transport (such as buses) and at the same time the spread of automobiles, as well as the increasingly clear distinction between working time and free time. In the news of the time there are many films that talk about this new type of vacation and that, at the same time, serve as an advertising campaign to attract the population to participate in the tourist revolution.

It is thanks to these videos, together with the films of the time, where the image of the Italian “dolce vita” and the wonderful coasts of the “belpaese” spread throughout the world. An image that has resisted the subsequent spread of successful tourism, concentrated in a few days (often even a weekend) and encouraged by the development of low-cost airlines in the 1990s. But the Italian style is not just beach and fun. Cultural tourism has also spread to a group of the population, who enjoy spending a few days in the so-called cities of art (of which Florence is a beautiful example).

But what changes will this new, strange and complicated era bring us globally? We can observe the consequences in tourism due to the unimaginable health emergency. This period will surely bring new reflections also in the field of tourism: If, on one hand, it will be necessary to take into account the generalized economic problems among the population and the preference for shorter trips closer to home, on the other hand we will also have to think about how to integrate the changes required by the territory in which we live. In fact, the new idea of tourism can no longer be separated from the protection of the environment or urban spaces, nor to the need to rethink of us as a community of individuals. Beauty and sustainability, respect and fun must be part of the same reality, in which tourism will live (and here in Florence we know something about it) a new Renaissance.