Italy mourns and ponders Berlusconi's successor

Italy pays tribute to the death of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with an elaborate soap opera-style spectacle.

The former cruise singer who led Italy without any prior political experience created a media empire and had a string of wives and companions. Wednesday, the Archbishop of Milan will preside over Berlusconi's state funeral in the city's stately cathedral and Italy is observing a national day of bereavement.

On all public buildings, the Italian and European flags have been lowered to half-staff. This is an unprecedented tribute for a former prime minister. A state funeral is typically reserved for popes, war heroes, and ministers in office.

Milan is closely associated with Silvio Berlusconi because he was born there and began his career selling vacuum cleaners. The main square, which is anticipated to be filled with tens of thousands of people who have come to bid a final farewell, has been outfitted with giant screens. 

During his lifetime, Berlusconi amassed a vast empire that included media, real estate, finance, film, and sports - in addition to a potent political party that is currently a part of the Italian government. He was one of the wealthiest individuals in Italy. Forbes estimates that his business assets are worth about €6 billion (£5.15 billion). However, he never publicly indicated who should head his business empire after his death, and the future of the Forza Italia party he founded is also uncertain.

Two of Berlusconi's offspring are from his first marriage, while three are from his second. They are all shareholders in Fininvest, his holding corporation. The future of his business interests will largely depend on how he distributes the majority stake in Fininvest that he owns.

Numerous opulent villas are unquestionably among Berlusconi's other valuable assets. They could be difficult to transmit equally to his progeny. The highest-value of Berlusconi's properties is the 1970s-purchased Sardinian mansion Villa Certosa.

There, he entertained international leaders, including Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. It has 126 rooms and resembles a theme park, complete with a lava-erupting artificial volcano. It is estimated to be worth €259m. People close to the family have referred to Berlusconi as "the glue" that held his children together.

There has been no dispute thus far regarding the succession of the empire; this is anticipated to fall to his eldest daughter Marina, 56, who is the closest of his five children to her father. The crucial issue is whether or not this family unity can be preserved now that Berlusconi is no longer in power, and what effect this may have on the future of his business empire.

He was the epitome of populist leadership, so it's no surprise that the party he founded was wholly shaped by his persona. His foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, has categorically denied that the party's future is in jeopardy: "It is inconceivable that the party would disappear."

Many Italians who supported the party were Berlusconi loyalists, making it difficult to appoint a successor they would accept. In all likelihood, party members will turn to the Berlusconi family for guidance. There is some speculation that Marina could succeed him as leader, but this is only a rumor at this time. She is primarily perceived as a behind-the-scenes operator.