Amid the Armani suits, aviator sunglasses and diamonds, Italy’s farewell to its most flamboyant politician was a surprisingly solemn affair.
The sun shone over the glittering spires and buttresses of the Duomo, Milan’s most beloved landmark, for Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral on Wednesday, as an A-list cast of Italian politics, finance and media gathered to pay their respects.
Milan made a fitting venue for Berlusconi’s send-off — it was the city where the three-times prime minister, media mogul and billionaire playboy had made his money.
Wreaths were stacked against the facade of the cathedral while giant screens set up outside allowed workers from Berlusconi’s media empire, and fans from the football clubs he owned over the years, to watch from the surrounding piazza. While some waved black and red AC Milan flags, one lone detractor wore an “I am not in mourning” T-shirt.
Covered in red and white roses, Berlusconi’s coffin was driven the 30 km from his home in Arcore, in a dark blue Mercedes hearse, to the Duomo where it was met by delegations from the navy, army, air force and police carabinieri.
As Berlusconi’s casket entered the cathedral, the 2,300 mourners stood to applaud.
Alongside TV stars from his Mediaset channels, CEOs and exiled royalty was the entire Italian political class. Party bigwigs and ministers joined political adversaries, such as opposition leader Elly Schlein. Former prime ministers including Mario Draghi and Matteo Renzi sat with Italy’s EU commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni. The most senior figures entered in reverse order of ranking, ending with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and then President Sergio Mattarella.
The Berlusconi dynasty, his daughters chic in pillbox netting and pearls, took center stage. Front row, seated next to his eldest daughter and predicted successor, Marina, in a show of unity, was his final partner, 33-year-old Marta Fascina. A picture of restraint in minimal makeup, with her platinum hair in a casual ponytail, Fascina wept during the 70-minute service.
Around a dozen priests performed the Roman Catholic rites, amid wafting incense and chanting. Milan Archbishop Mario Delpini didn’t shy away from Berlusconi’s complicated legacy in his eulogy, touching on his success and failure in business, recalling a politician who won and lost, and acknowledging there were “those who applaud him and those who detest him.”
“But in this moment of farewell and prayer, what can we say about Silvio Berlusconi? He has been a man: a desire for life, a desire for love, a desire for joy,” Delpini said. “He is a man and now he meets God.”
The casket left the cathedral — to chants of “There is only one president” and “Berlusconi one of us” from the piazza — before the family members said their final farewells. Fascina kissed the coffin and then it departed for the crematorium and from there to Berlusconi’s own mausoleum, the one concession in the solemn rites, to his perennial grandiosity.
A lifelong iconoclast, bon viveur, showman and disrupter, Berlusconi’s death was announced on Monday at the age of 86. He had a penchant for the garish, exemplified by his delight in off-color jokes and the working model of a volcano built in his Sardinian villa.
But while internationally he was still ridiculed for his “bunga bunga” sex parties, and his tax fraud conviction, in the end his funeral was a restrained occasion. That showed, perhaps, how the Italian establishment had in his final years accepted Berlusconi back. Following his ousting in 2011, he had returned to government under Draghi, and as a junior partner to Meloni.
His party enjoyed a 3.5 percent sympathy boost in the polls since his death was announced on Monday. Shares in companies linked to Berlusconi have also risen. Such a stately funeral may also add to the Berlusconi bounce.