Between Armani suits, aviator sunglasses and diamonds, Italy’s farewell to its most flamboyant politician was surprisingly solemn.
The sun shone on the glittering spiers and buttresses of the Duomo, Milan’s best-loved landmark, for Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral on Wednesday, as a top-notch cast from Italy’s politics, finance and media gathered to pay homage.
Milan was the ideal venue for Berlusconi’s ouster: it was the city where the three-time prime minister, media mogul and billionaire playboy had made his money.
Garlands were piled against the facade of the cathedral while giant screens installed outside allowed workers in Berlusconi’s media empire and fans of the football clubs he’s owned over the years to watch from the surrounding square. While some were waving AC Milan’s red and black flags, only one detractor wore a T-shirt that read ‘I’m not in mourning’.
Covered in red and white roses, Berlusconi’s coffin was carried 30 km from his home in Arcore, on a dark blue Mercedes hearse, to the cathedral where it was welcomed by delegations from the navy, army and air force and the carabinieri.
As Berlusconi’s coffin entered the cathedral, the 2,300 mourners rose to applaud.
Alongside the TV stars of its Mediaset networks, CEOs and royalty in exile was the entire Italian political class. Party bigwigs and ministers joined political opponents, such as opposition leader Elly Schlein. Former prime ministers including Mario Draghi and Matteo Renzi sat down with Italy’s European commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni. The most top-level figures entered the rankings in reverse order, closing with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and then President Sergio Mattarella.
The Berlusconi dynasty, its chic daughters in nets and pearls, were in the spotlight. In the front row, sitting next to her eldest daughter and her presumptive heir, Marina, as a sign of unity, was her last companion, the 33-year-old Marta Fascina. An image of restraint with minimal makeup, with her platinum hair pulled back in a casual ponytail, Fascina cried throughout the 70-minute shoot.
About a dozen priests performed Roman Catholic rites, including incense and chanting. Milan Archbishop Mario Delpini did not shy away from Berlusconi’s complicated legacy in praising him, touching on his successes and failures in business, recalling a politician who won and lost, and acknowledging that there were « those who applaud him and those who he hates it ».
“But in this moment of farewell and prayer, what can we say about Silvio Berlusconi? He was a man: desire for life, desire for love, desire for joy. « He IS a man and now he meets God. »
The casket left the cathedral – to the sounds of « There is only one president » and « Berlusconi one of us » from the square – before the family said their final goodbyes. Fascina kissed the coffin and then left for the crematorium and from there to Berlusconi’s own mausoleum, the only concession in the solemn rites to his perennial grandeur.
A lifelong iconoclast, bon viveur, showman and disruptor, Berlusconi’s death was announced on Monday at the age of 86. Sardinian villa.
But while internationally he was still ridiculed for his « bunga bunga » sex parties and tax fraud conviction, his funeral was ultimately a reserved occasion. This showed, perhaps, how the Italian establishment had re-accepted Berlusconi in its final years. After his ousting in 2011, he returned to government with Draghi, and as a junior partner of Meloni.
His party enjoyed a 3.5 percent increase in sympathy in surveys since his death was announced on Monday. Even the shares of companies linked to Berlusconi increased. Such a stately funeral could also add to Berlusconi’s rebound.