Hundreds bid farewell to Italian author Umberto Eco

"Intellectually this has been the biggest loss in my life. He was a point of reference, he taught me that any goals can be reached in life," a film director, Vanna Paoli, told Xinhua while attending the funeral of Italian philosopher and author Umberto Eco held here in Milan on Tuesday.

Paoli, born in Florence, currently lives in Chicago, Unites States. "But I would never have missed being here today. Eco was my professor at DAMS -- drama, art and music studies faculty at Bologna University -- in the 1970s. I remember his breadth of vision and his strong will to transfer to us, his students, the results of his research, always in a smart and ironic way," she said.

Local authorities, intellectuals, personalities but also hundreds of common citizens attended the civil ritual held at the Milan's iconic Sforza Castle, not far from the home where the professor of semiotics -- especially renowned in the world for his bestsellers The Name of the Rose, translated into nearly 50 languages, and Foucault's Pendulum -- died at the age of 84 on Friday night.

Piero Gelli, an essayist and former editorial director of major Italian publishing houses, was a close friend of Eco's. "We had been good friends since 1965. He is one of the most important intellectuals that Italy has ever had, and one with an extraordinary international gaze. He has always encouraged cultural interaction and integration," he told Xinhua.

"When I met Eco first, he was not so famous yet, but global fame did not change him at all. It is difficult to find a personality like him able to remain the same humane, the same simple and the same natural as he had always used to be," Gelli highlighted.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in his address to Tuesday's ceremony underlined Eco's role in spreading culture as a fundamental instrument of dialogue between peoples, in a world in which different traditions can no longer ignore each other but must live in continual contact. "We have lost a master, but not his lesson," stressed Education Minister Stefania Giannini.

Xinhua talked to various school and university professors attending the ceremony, who underlined the importance of making Eco known to young generations. "Not so many scholars in recent years have been able to give a fundamental support to literature as Eco did, we must be very thankful to him," Lia Colonnello, a middle school teacher in Milan, said.

Colonnello told Xinhua that it is not an easy job to make young students learn from Eco's capacity to analyze the world with an open and vigilant mind, in nowadays hurried society. "But I have always tried my best to do so when he was alive and I will keep doing now that he is not with us anymore," she added.

Many citizens said they came to the author's funeral just because they have read his essays and novels and have found them enlightening. Among them there was a literature student in Milan, Nicolo Straudi. "Eco has set an example in my life for his incredible capacity of speaking to everybody through his works, and through the use of many different styles," he said.

"I missed school today to be here and bid my farewell to Eco. I have read many works of him, including novels and essays. I found that he was always able to see beyond the present," the moved student told Xinhua holding a copy of his favorite book by the author, Foucault's Pendulum, in his hands.

The release date of Eco's final book Pape Satan Aleppe, a collection of his essays, has been pushed forward from May to come out this weekend in Italian, according to media reports. Among his most recent public appearance, Eco gave a speech at an international conference on culture held last summer at the Expo Milano 2015, where he defined cultural exchange as a tool for safety.

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