Italy Update: Roman Shipwrecks and Berlusconi Found in Deep Water

The Ongoing Silvio Saga

That Berlusconi is involved in a tangled web of political scandal and lurid details about his private life is nothing new. To date he’s been accused of bribery, an impropriety with an under-age girl, as well as involvement with the mafia, all with impunity (which makes me laugh, because in the UK all you need to make an MP resign is the whiff of a dodgy expense claims form). After all, Silvio is not stupid by any means, and at times when a problem has arisen, he has been known to conveniently have a law passed to protect his interests. Head of state not allowed to own private media channels? Not a problem – a change in the law meant that Berlusconi could keep his Mediaset business empire, while also controlling state-run Rai. About to face trial in a case of bribery (in which Tessa Jowell’s estranged husband David Mills was sentenced to four and a half years in an Italian prison)? Again, Silvio didn’t have to worry, he just made himself, as a senior politician, immune from prosecutions. So far it seems that there really hasn’t been anything that could seriously damage Italy’s gaff-making, perma-tanned premier. While it’s fair to say that most Italians find him acutely embarrassing, many admire his ‘spirit of survival’.

Silvio in Deep Water?

So has something finally come along that will topple the PM? Sure, in the past couple of months he’s been accused of hosting parties with topless women in his Sardinian villa (as well as an ex Czech prime minister?) and the non-Silvio-owned papers have questioned his relationship with 18-year-old Noemi Letizia (a pretty, wannabe Italian TV starlet). He was publicly ditched (she wrote a letter to a national news agency) by his wife Veronica Lario, who filed for divorce in May. The latest twist in this torrid tale is that an escort girl, Patrizia D’Addario, 42, has now come up with the ‘Silvio tapes’ (recorded one night at the PM’s Rome residence by D’Addario because she wanted to ‘prove she had been there’). These are hilarious and allegedly record Mr Berlusconi asking said prostitute (whom he denies paying, but that’s a minor detail) to wait for him in ‘Putin’s bed’. Well, I was *almost* starting to feel sorry for the poor old thing (him, not her). He’s suffered enough surely? Let the old dog lie (in whichever prime minister’s bed he chooses). What’s more, while these scandals might be enough to shame most politicians, you can bet Silvio is laughing about it all in private what 72-year-old man wouldn’t see the funny side of a night spent with Ms D’Addario? Berlusconi still seems to have the knack of brushing aside embarrassment or scandal.

But Try Explaining Away 30 Phoenician Tombs…

But there is news just in that could truly land Italy’s prime minister in deep water. It has emerged, as part of the recordings on the Silvio tapes, that 30 Phoenician tombs dating back about 2,300 years have been found on the land surrounding Silvio’s Sardinian Villa Certosa, just north of Olbia in the north-eastern corner of the island (for the voyeuristic, see the villa and its surrounding land here). Officials from Sardinia’s Department of Culture have said that the discovery of these tombs has not been registered – a culpable offence in Italy. If the presence of these tombs is verified they would signify an important new discovery for archaeologists. Berlusconi has already come under criticism for the apparent non-declaration of the alleged archaeological discovery.

Berlusconi has already come under criticism for the apparent non-declaration of the archaeological discovery.

The ancient graves could shed some light on the culture of the Phoenicians, who started to settle on Sardinia in the eighth century BC. It was a convenient stop-off point on their trade routes between the silver and lead mines on the Iberian peninsular and the eastern Mediterranean. However, it is thought that most of the Phoenician towns on Sardinia were on the south-western part of the island. The largest towns include Karalis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis (on the island of Sant’Antioco), Tharros and Bosa. Tharros was believed by some to be the second most important Phoenician city after Carthage. However, new evidence of settlement on the north-eastern side of the island could be significant and suppression of this information is viewed as illegal in Italy.

Five Shipwrecks Discovered

But Berlusconi isn’t the only thing apparently in deep water this weekend: five Roman trade ships have just been found off the coast of Ventotene, an island between Rome and Naples. The team of divers and underwater archaeologists used sonar and robotic submarines to located the shipwrecks, which have been found in extremely good condition, according to the BBC.

Resting at about 150m below sea level, the five vessels, thought to date from around 100-400 AD, have been protected from strong currents by their depth and position. They sank without capsizing, which means their cargo of olive oil, wine and the ubiquitous fish sauce was undisturbed the terracotta amphorae are still in their original loading position. The vessels sank on one of the main trading routes between Rome and Africa in fact, Africa was a major producer of olive oil during the Roman empire, and was an important exporter to Rome (although most of Rome’s olive oil imports came from Iberia).

The BBC quotes Annalisa Zarattini, from the Italian Culture Ministry, as saying that this underwater discovery is part of a wider plan to locate and examine sunken treasures and artefacts before looters can get to them. New sophisticated technology means that underwater probing is increasingly within the reach of private organisations, who may not hand their finds over to the Italian state. Zarattini says: It’s important that we arrive there first.

In State Hands, or Safe Hands?

Meanwhile, it seems that when it comes to handing archaeological finds over to the state, the one person who should be reminded of this is the prime minister himself. I won’t lose too much sleep worrying about the consequences he may face as a result of his cultural oversight. He can no doubt get his lawyers to plead that he IS the state, and so any Phoenician tombs found at Villa Certosa are already in ‘state’ hands. Besides which, he is immune from prosecution. As with most scandals, Silvio will just shrug this one off too and make light of it in one of his many media outlets.

Photo by Alessio85.