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Invisible Cities

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"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating fine details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

165 pages, Paperback

First published November 3, 1972

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About the author

Italo Calvino

471 books7,523 followers
Italo Calvino was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. He was a journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979).

His style is not easy to classify; much of his writing has an air reminiscent to that of fantastical fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more "realistic" and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called postmodern, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled magical realist, others fables, others simply "modern". He wrote: "My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language."

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Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,221 followers
September 14, 2016
...A five star review...

I hate flying. The claustrophobia of it. So usually when I return to Italy after visiting London I catch the train to Paris and then the night train to Venice. That’s my little extravagance. I catch the night train to Venice and not Florence for one moment. The moment of walking out of the station of Santa Lucia and beholding the Grand Canal. I sit on the steps and let all the activity on the canal wash through me. I’m not sure why this moment means so much to me. It’s not a moment I can or even want to explain. I remember a line from a novel I read where a character gazing out at the Grand Canal says, “I keep wondering when all this will happen to me.” Perhaps that’s it, Venice articulates some deep desire we all have or evokes a memory of something that has never quite happened.

Reading this for a second time is a bit like visiting Venice for a second time. A little bit of the magic fades but in compensation you notice lots of wonders you missed the first time. I read it in English this time. Now and again the writing seemed a bit clunky – “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here.” That “if there is one” is a bit of an eyesore. But it’s no less clunky in Italian - L'inferno dei viventi non è qualcosa che sarà; se ce n'è uno – you can’t blame the translator for translating it word for word instead of trying to improve the fluency of Calvino’s prose. .

This is probably the greatest book ever written about tourism, about the urge to escape the confines of where we live. Essentially Marco Polo is a tourist. And we all as tourists need an audience to show the images of our travels to. Kublai Khan is the audience, the vicarious tourist. He’s also a warlord, and by inference every warlord intent on conquering new territory is a tourist and every tourist is a warlord in embryo. We all want to conquer new lands. We’re all hungry for new discoveries, new exotic possessions. But we all eventually have to go home. Calvino is constantly making the point that every city is essentially what we bring to it. He’s brilliant at capturing the deep division of perspective between the tourist and long term inhabitant. Florentines are famous for never looking at the city’s monuments. It’s become how they distinguish themselves from the tourist. They turn a blind eye. They stare at their phones while walking across Piazza della Signoria. Venice has almost been turned into a romance theme park – it’s called upon to provide a standard collection of microwaved emotions as efficiently as an atm provides cash. One of the wonders of Venice now is the people who live there. You need them to understand something of the true nature of the city. To get behind the postcard façade. There are times when it’s much more rewarding to watch a man bump a barrow down the steps of a nondescript bridge than gaze blankly at the façade of San Marco. Sometimes it’s these kinds of details that bring a place alive for us. Calvino’s deployment of these telling details is probably this book’s most stellar achievement and what makes it such a joy to read.

...An alternative four star review...

Calvino is one of the sacred cows of literature. He’s one of those writers who we’re tempted to pretend to like more than we really do, like Proust and Joyce, for fear of revealing some intellectual inadequacy. Interestingly for me, Virginia Woolf still isn’t one of these scared cows. When people don’t like Woolf they have more of a license to vent their scorn. It still hasn’t been officially recognised that Woolf is a great writer, by men at any rate. Often when there’s a list of the best novels ever written Woolf won’t feature at all, or if she does it’ll be her lesser but easier books like Mrs Dalloway or A Room of One's Own that makes the list. (To be fair her genius is recognised in Italy and France; it’s in the UK she tends to divide opinion.)

So Invisible Cities vs The Waves. Invisible Cities is absolutely brilliant and inspired for the first fifty pages. But then it wanes a bit, gets a bit repetitive. Seems odd to say about a book of only 145 pages but might it have been better had it been a bit shorter? The contents page has the appearance of some mathematical formula, like a star map, so perhaps there’s some hidden genius in the design of this book. But if there is I didn’t get it and nor did anyone else judging by the few reviews I’ve read. It felt to me like the number of invisible cities we get was random and some were uninspired. If you took a single page out of The Waves it would collapse. You could take ten pages out of Invisible Cities without it being noticed. Also now and again Calvino is perhaps guilty of the kind of vacuous platitudes you’ll find strewn throughout the pages of The Alchemist. “Falsehood is never in words; it is in things.” That kind of thing. Looks great if you skim read it; becomes only a half-truth if you stop to think about it. So for me, The Waves wins over Invisible Cities in a heavyweight wrestling match.

...Back to tourism...

Once upon a time the world was getting smaller. Now it’s getting bigger again as terrorism creates more and more no go areas. You could say terrorism is a war on tourism. It’s diminishing one of the biggest cultural phenomenon of our times. That’s probably the most significant change terrorism is making to the world. It’s making us think twice about travelling. I watched a heartbreaking report from Aleppo last night –a once magical town that none of us will ever see again. How long before it becomes one of Calvino’s Invisible Cities?

Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,103 followers
October 8, 2014

Invisible Cities; Imagined Lives

Marco Polo was a dreamer. He had great ambitions - wanting to be a traveller, a writer and a favored courtier. He wanted to live in the lap of luxury in his lifetime and in the best illustrated pages of history later. But he could only be a dreamer and never much more. Was it good enough? He never travelled anywhere and spent his life dreaming away in his Venice and is remembered to this day as the greatest explorer and travel writer of all time. How did that come about? It is a tale about the triumph of imagination over experience.

In Venice, that city of water, a network of canals and a network of streets span and intersect each other. Marco Polo was traveling in a little boat in that Venice and thinking of the Marco Polo he was meant to be when his imagination began to soar. All the travelogues he wanted to write started coming to his mind. A whole book of descriptions, all made of poems that would describe the beauty of this city like those waves reflecting it in varied shapes among their ripples. He watched the people moving along the streets, each eye seeing the same city differently, dependent on the angle of observation, and speaking in a language of symbols and images that is more powerful than words can ever be. The river is the story, the river is the book, arranged in perfect sinusoidal waves of its own and choosing as its reader the greatest of all appreciators, the book catches the splendor of the city and reflects it for your patient eyes in a sort of primitive cubism, leaving it to you to make out all its meaning and all its poetry and to see ultimately yourself in that reflection of all the cities that imagination could possibly build.

He started going on long voyages into his own mind, into the reflections of Venice, and into the reflections of those reflections. And then he wrote them down and he spoke of them and he sang of them. Men stopped to listen. They paid to hear him, first with time, then with gold, then with diamonds and great honors.

The Venetian was soon summoned to the court of the great Kublai Khan, who was also a dreamer. He envisioned himself to be the greatest of rulers, his kingdom expanding and pouring over the whole vast world until all the world was under him. He knew that information was power and he wanted to know of every single city under him, and of every city that was to be under him. ‘On the day when I know all the cities,’ he thought, 'I shall be able to possess my empire, at last!’ He wanted Marco polo to be his eyes and ears and sent him off, with instructions to visit the most far flung and exotic provinces and to understand the soul of every city and to report back to him.

Marco Polo bowed every time and with great aplomb set off for his great voyages. Next week he would be in his beloved Venice, dreaming up the world, a world more real than reality, with all the ingredients needed to construct a city - memories, desires, signs, skies, trade, eyes, sounds, shapes, names and the dead. He spoke of old cities with gods and demons in it, of cities yet to be, with airplanes and atomic bombs coloring their movements, and of cities that should have been, with happiness and sorrow apportioned in balance. What separates the dream’s reality from the dreamer’s reality? He pondered on this mystery with every city. Maybe all successful men dream our lives as it should be while rotting in some sewer and maybe all unhappy men dream their unhappiness in life while rotting in some palace? Maybe we can only continue our chosen destinies and everything else is a dream. It is only invisible cities we can construct. And we can reflect on them only through imagination, and fiction. He knew his cities were real.

It took many years for the Great Khan to realize that Marco Polo wasn't describing cities so much as the human mind and experience. He realized that every city, whether imagined by Marco Polo or constructed by planned blueprints or grown from slow accretion are all dreams given shape by human hands, by human ambition, by a desire for a future that can be shaped. In fact, Marco Polo’s cities started to seem to him more real than any he knew to be real. He learned that if men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a city in which to begin a story of pursuits, pretenses, misunderstandings, clashes, oppressions, and the carousel of fantasies would stop.

Khan now knew how to travel, to really travel. He could now accompany the great explorer in his prophetic journeys. He could describe cities to Marco Polo and he could listen to him, even as he filled in the details. They could sit together in the courtyard and be silent and still travel through the most exotic and most truthful of cities.

Then came a day when Marco Polo had to inform the Khan, ‘Sire, now I have told you about all the cities I know.'

'There is still one of which you never speak.'

Marco Polo bowed his head.

'Venice,' the Khan said.

Marco smiled. 'What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?'

The emperor did not turn a hair. 'And yet I have never heard you mention that name.'

And Polo said: 'Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.'

'When I ask you about other cities, I want to hear about them. And about Venice, when I ask you about Venice.' Khan made an attempt at looking angry but he knew his friend could see through faces and all such masks.

'To distinguish the other cities' qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice. For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name; perhaps I have already spoken of Venice under other names; perhaps I have spoken only of Venice.

'You should then describe for me Venice - as it is, all of it, not omitting anything you remember of it.'

'Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,' Polo said. 'Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.

Kublai looked at Polo. He understood. To tell a story you have to start from what you know best. You have to put your soul in the story and then build the flesh, the hair, the face and the clothes around it. The more stories you tell, the more of your soul you invest and lay bare to the world. When do you start fearing that you are as invisible as the cities you create? Kublai continued to look sadly at his friend.

Kublai asks Marco, 'When you return to the West, will you repeat to your people the same tales you tell me?'

'I speak and speak,' Marco says, 'but the listener retains only the words he is expecting. It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.'

Then Khan knew that the sadness he felt so pressingly as he tried to force the wine down was not for his dear friend but for himself, he now knew that as he was listening to all the stories that Marco Polo was describing to him, he was only hearing stories that he was telling himself. The cities were all real, but they were not reflections of Marco Polo’s soul, they were not reflecting his Venice. They were reflecting Kublai Khan’s own soul, his own empire, ambitions, desires and fears.

Disclaimer: Marco Polo Really Did Go To China, Maybe

Edit: I got a message from a goodreader asking me why I put up the whole story of the book without a spoiler warning...

Please go ahead and read the review without any fear of spoilers, the connection with the plot of the book (if any) is very tenuous - this is an imagined plot/backstory for a book that deliberately lacks one.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,216 reviews9,893 followers
August 31, 2015

Marco Polo : Now I shall tell you of the beautiful city of Nottingham where the buildings are made mostly of blue glass, onyx and sausagemeat. The men of the city trade in fur, spices and photographs of each other with their respective spouses. All the men have large phalluses, sometimes so large they must cut pieces out of the tops of their front doors before they can exit their houses in the morning. This is a city of dreamers and anthropophagi, of astronomers and chess players, all with the largest of phalluses. The women of the city are the most voluptuous and lively. They wear clothes. Many times I have observed them gambolling and performing handsprings for sheer joy of being in Nottingham. The dogs of Nottingham are all sly and well-read. They play canasta and billiards mostly, but also trade junk bonds and enjoy swapping photographs of the men of Nottingham with their respective spouses. But describing the cats of Nottingham will tax me to the very limit of my powers, O mighty Lord -

Kublai Khan : One moment, Sr. Polo. You will see the sun is high. I must now bathe in Turkish Delight and oxtail soup. We will recommence in the cool of the evening.

Marco Polo : I await your pleasure, my Lord.

Kublai Khan to his chief fixer the Grand Weirdo of All The Kingdoms : Later this afternoon I wish you to tell Sr Marco I have died. Or tell me that he has died. One of the two.

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,465 reviews3,619 followers
July 13, 2020
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.” Samuel Taylor ColeridgeKubla Khan
There are a countless number of cities but the most mysterious are those that we build in our imagination.
Marco Polo arrives and he tells Kublai Khan about ghostly cities he visited during his journeys…
Marco enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man’s place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in that square. By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else’s present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.

Cities are filled with memories: pleasant and sad… Cities are full of signs: explicit and obscure… Cities are laden with moods: exultant and nostalgic… Cities are packed with goods: necessary and trashy… Cities are fraught with the dead past and they brim with the alive present…
“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

Whatever we seek, wherever we search, we’re just looking for our true inner self.
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,029 reviews17.7k followers
September 5, 2023
Dr. Seuss

Stuff and nonsense! The old folks used to say - and our fantastic inner fantasies can take us there for sure. But watch out.

For traumatic thoughts may occur:

When to sweet sessions of silent thought
(We) summon up Remembrance of Things Past...

So said the Bard, suggesting posthumously to Scott Moncrieff a snappy title for his new English translation of La Recherche du Temps Perdu, with all its devastating aperçus!

For to some people the past is “a nightmare from which we are trying to wake up.” So, as with Proust, it was for Calvino.

But the primitive side of the past can inspire us, too!

The great, existentially driven classical pianist Alfred Brendel prized his huge collection of African masks. Yes, for like us, primitive emotion had the power to unleash creativity...

But to Calvino, that was all over for him. For all Value in his life had been wiped out by a plethora of violently primitive feelings and actions.

As a young man he had seen the Gorgon’s head of War close up - and it had deeply scored his youthful, passionate affectivity.

And Calvino had had the dull light of the humdrum and blasé blasted right outa him by a starker representation of Trauma - the trauma of being a perpetual target on the cross-hairs of Mussolini’s porcine secret police!

Any primitive thoughts he had harboured in his imagination were killed by the not-so-dulce Duce... Bestiality Incarnate in a blunt Pig’s Bullet Head!

And this deep Agenbite of Inwit had killed his youthful ebullience. So what did he do?

Simple... he sought refuge like his traumatized intellectual forbears Mallarme and Sartre in - le Néant.

With a Difference - for under the sheltering guise of meaningless his whimsy grew wings. He could now fly...

A writer was born.

Friends, please welcome the NEW Edward Lear of the Atomic Age of Existentialism...

Brute trauma Does wake us up to another world, and it is an ugly world from which the sheer whimsy of fantasy can be an bona fide and blessed release!

So at the time when, on a felicitous and sybaritic whim, he penned this delectable Angel’s Food Cake of a fantasy it was like an open escape hatch to him.

Because there still remained, in his anxiety, the open window of pure imaginative caprice. And he invested all his driven energy into gazing out at its wondrous vistas.

He wanted to just let his harried mind unbend a little.

And what a wonderfully delightful concoction of sybaritic fun it is...

Let me draw you a picture.

Like Scheherazade, the Italian explorer Marco Polo found that at the end of his arduous Journey to the East, he had to regale the ruthlessly powerful Oriental potentate Kubla Khan - for endless hours on end - with tales of the awesome glittering cities of the Mysterious West, his homeland.

In fear, perhaps - as Calvino was centuries later of Il Duce’s wrath - of the Great Khan’s awful retribution!

So he talked. And talked. And like Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins, his fantasy creations just HAD to be ever more and more Awesome and Glittering as he went on - in the interests of longevity (his own!).

As in Seuss, the effect must have been exponential in persuasive force.

The Emperor was extremely well pleased.

He loaded young Marco’s mules down with gifts as glittering as the young man’s fantasy cities. And when young Marco arrived back on the Italian Peninsula weary and worn-out, long months later, he was tired but very, very satisfied.

For he was the great Conquering Hero of his day. And he was now the toast of all civilized Europe!

One for the history books, for sure - right up there with the Moon Landing!

You know, Mary McCarthy called Calvino a Wizard. That he indeed is.

And I think you will see that for yourself...

So, why don’t you, late one evening, after a few drams of some refreshing spirits to reawaken that dreaming spirit of yours, Gently unleash it - and lead it, with the refreshing fantasy of this book, to this magical place of invisible cities?

A place where all your workaday wormies, existential angst and primitive trauma will EVAPORATE!

Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
April 14, 2014

Heidi Whitman - Brain Terrain.

I have not read Marco Polos’s Journeys, but I could imagine what he has written. Had I read it, I also would have had to imagine what he had written. Same verbs, different tenses.

As I am sitting on a bench in front of a museum, waiting for a friend, a family of Italian tourists comes and sits next to me. They come from the land of Marco Polo, or maybe not, may be from the land of Italo Calvino since I do not know if they are Venetians. Italy was a projection of the Imagination in the nineteenth century. Marco Polo did not know it.

They carry a guidebook of the city of Madrid, and are trying to make sense out of the book, a book written in their language, and also make sense out of the city, written in the language of cities. Universally understood. Cosmopolitan.

It must be the monuments, the streets, the histories, the nourishment, the inhabitants, the parks, the related but different language that they want to understand. They use the text and the reproduced images as the key to comprehend the Urbis and the originals standing in front of them.


And may be one of them, the father, remembers when he came here with his parents. He could be telling his children now about his Memories. But as they are listening, they are also discarding those Memories and forming their own: new future Memories of having visited the city with their parents. And they will tell their future children who will also forget. Remembering a Forgetting, like waves of the same sea.


Their visit must have been prompted by some Desire to leave their everyday monotonous but comfortable life and look for excitement. Depending on their age they could participate in the bustling Madrid night life in which Desires wildly run. Age and Desire. Are all of them captives of their Desire-Spectrums?

Would I desire to unlock their Desires?

No. Only mine.


Looking around these Italians could observe that most Signs only signal the same as all the others. International sign language has become a non-sign language. They mean sameness.

Thin Cities

As Europeans they should not be surprised to see that this is not a Thin City. There are trees, there are street lamps, and there are some dreadful tall buildings. It is a city that could grow horizontally because it is on a barren plateau. And yet,… and yet, it has steep roads. And these do feel like pure verticals on a tired morning. The city is hilly and the sharp drop comes as a surprise as one arrives at the Palacio Real, where the Sabatini Gardens extend deep down. Francisco Sabatini, another Italian and architect and who has projected an invisible Italian quality to this city. As if Marco Polo had been here.

Trading Cities

With no seaport it had to become a port of projections and become a matrix for the dispatches to far-away ports. And it did so contrary to Marco Polo’s direction when his route was blocked by the Tartars. This landlocked city would determine the launching of the black Galleons and sail them off cruising the sea-routes to meet the successors of Kublai Kahn and Trade with them in that twin trading city, Ma-Nila-Ma-Drid. Coming and going.


There is a building where there are many Eyes. They are all moving and roving around, looking at the walls, at the colours and flat shapes on the walls. And they continue looking and those walls with their images look back at them. The paintings have been looking at eyes for a longer time than these eyes have looked at anything.

And there thrones a picture with which the imagination of a Venetian captured the Warrior on horseback looking over those eyes, looking without seeing them.

Echoing the other Emperor when he had said to his Venetian: “describe to me your cities”, Emperor Charles V summoned Tiziano Vecellio and said to him “paint me your worlds, so that I can see them”.

Tiziano painted Charles’ gaze into the horizon, into his world.


Matrix, or Matrice or Matriz or Magerit or Magra.

The same city, different identities and varying names.

Madrid in Spanish, Madrid in English, Madrid in German.

And 马德里 in Mandarin, Ma-de-li, for the understanding of Kublai Kahn.

The Dead

The monuments make the Dead more alive that the current alive. They remain and there are very many. But since I have a Now, I am interested in the fewer ones.

The Sky

It is not true that Madrid has no sea. It just hangs over its inhabitants. The very intense blue of the Sky, so deep an azure because of the dry climate and the elevation of the city, makes one imagine oneself with wings which can be spread out to then set off with one’s soul and swim in the airy ocean.

The Ultra-Mar.


Night and day, and Seasons. And clocks, many clocks. They seem to divide time, but they are phantasmagorias or devices that do the opposite from the magic emerging out of Phenakistoscopes and create the illusion of discrete, detached, distinct moments out of the unceasing Continuous.


Most of the inhabitants are also tourists, like this Italian family. This is a city populated not just by passers in Life, but principally by outsiders who were not born here. Anonymous origins and undisclosed length of time for their open transit. Whether in hotels or temporary homes everybody’s lives remain invisible from each other. And their realities are not deciphered in the guide book of the Italians, just as Marco Polo did not succeed in deciphering his cities for the Great Kahn. They will remain invisible.

Great Chan

Invisible Cities forms part of the conclusion of Jonathan’s Spence’s
The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds. After reviewing the representation of China in Western minds, starting with Marco Polo, Spence tackles in the final chapter the three geniuses who understood what was at stake. Neither Kafka, nor Borges nor Calvino, had ever been to China. Yet, to the Sinologist Spence, they were the three bright minds who did not fall on the Orientalist trappings. And Calvino was the one to have identified best the trappings of the mind in representing the fascinating unknown.

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews47 followers
October 30, 2021
(Book 350 from 1001 books) - Le Citta Invisibili‬‬ = Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities is a novel by Italian writer Italo Calvino. It was published in Italy in 1972. The book explores imagination and the imaginable through the descriptions of cities by an explorer, Marco Polo.

The book is framed as a conversation between the aging and busy emperor Kublai Khan, who constantly has merchants coming to describe the state of his expanding and vast empire, and Polo.

The majority of the book consists of brief prose poems describing 55 fictitious cities that are narrated by Polo, many of which can be read as parables or meditations on culture, language, time, memory, death, or the general nature of human experience.

Over the nine chapters, Marco describes a total of fifty-five cities, all women's names.

The cities are divided into eleven thematic groups of five each: Cities & Memory; Cities & Desire; Cities & Signs; Thin Cities; Trading Cities; Cities & Eyes; Cities & Names; Cities & the Dead; Cities & the Sky; Continuous Cities; Hidden Cities.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «ش��رهای نامرئی»؛ «شهرهای بی نشان»؛ «شهرهای ناپیدا»؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ انتشاراتیها: (باغ نو، پاپیروس، کتاب خورشید، نگاه)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفتم ماه اکتبر سال2003میلادی

عنوان: شهرهای نامرئی؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: ترانه یلدا؛ تهران، پاپیروس، سال1368؛ در152ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، باغ نو، سال1381؛ در152ص؛ شابک9647425163؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایتالیا - سده 20م

عنوان: شهرهای ناپیدا؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: بهمن رییسی؛ تهران، کتاب خورشید، سال1388؛ در206ص؛ شابک9789647081733؛ چاپ دوم سال1389؛ چاپ سوم سال1392؛

عنوان: شهرهای بی نشان؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: فرزام پروا؛ تهران، نگاه، سال1391؛ در152ص؛ شابک9789643517960؛

رمان «شهرهای نامرئی»، اثر «ایتالو کالوینو»، نویسنده ی «ایتالیایی»، توسط مترجم دیگری نیز، به فارسی ترجمه شده، و ایشان نام «شهرهای ناپیدا» را به روی اثر خود گذاشته اند، ترجمه ی جناب آقای «بهمن رییسی» از کتاب در216صفحه منتشر شده؛ ترجمه پیشین این کتاب توسط بانو «ترانه یلدا» انجام شده، که این ترجمه نخست در سال1368هجری خورشیدی، از سوی نشر پاپیروس، و سپس در سال1981هجری خورشیدی از سوی نشر «باغ نو» منتشر شده است؛ «کالوینو» این اثر را در سال1972میلادی نگاشته اند؛ و منتقدان آنرا در حوزه ی ادبیات علمی‌ تخیلی، دسته‌ بندی کرده‌ اند؛

و داستان: «قوبیلای» خان، خان «مغول»، فرستاده هایی دارد، که از سفرهایشان برایش میگویند، و «مارکو» تاجر «ونیزی»، قاصد مورد علاقه ایشانست؛ «مارکو» از شهرهای امپراطوری برایش میگوید، شهرهای افسانه ای، (برخی نوشته اند شهرهای دور از حقیقت، اما امروز به لطف تلگرام، بسیاری از این شهرها را دیده ایم)، شهری که در روی فضای دو پرتگاه ساخته شده، شهری که به جای هوا، خاک در آن جریان دارد، شهری که بنا بر شرایط روحی، آنرا به شکل متفاوتی میبینید، شهری که دو قسمت است: قسمتی ثابت است و قسمتی که هر سال آن را جا به جا میکنند، شهری که هر سال مردمانش شغل و همسر خود را دیگر میکنند، شهری که یک شهر مشابه در زیر زمین دارد، و مردگان را به آنجا انتقال میدهند، در صحنه ای فراخور حالشان و...؛

نقل از متن: (این بار از همان ابتدا، عنوانی برای هر صفحه انتخاب کرده و در بالای هر کدام نوشته بودم: «شهرها و حافظه»، «شهرها و آرزو»، «شهرها و نشانه ها»؛

چهارمین مجموعه را «شهرها و شکل ها» نام گذاشته بودم، عنوانی که بعدها به نظرم بسیار کلی آمد، و آن را به عناوین مختلف تقسیم کردم؛ برای مدت مدیدی که در حال نوشتن شهرها بودم، در این شک فرو رفته بودم که مجموعه ها را گسترش دهم، یا تعداد آنها را به چند عدد برسانم «البته دو مجموعه اول اساسی به نظر میآمد» یا آنکه بالاخره همگی را از بین ببرم؛ نوشته هایی را نیز نمیدانستم در شمار کدام مجموعه قرار دهم، و برای آنها به دنبال پیدا کردن عنوانی بودم؛ میتوانستم برای آنها عنوان «شهرهای آبستره و مجازی» را انتخاب کنم؛ بالاخره «شهرهای بلندبالا» را برگزیدم؛ بعضیها را میتوانستم در زمره ی «شهرهای دوگانه» جایگزین کنم، امّا با گذشت زمان حس کردم، که میتوانم برای آنها عناوین دیگری، انتخاب کنم؛ برخی را نیز ابدا پیش پیش بینی نکرده بودم: ناغافل بیرون آمدند، و نظم طبقه بندی قبلی را، بر هم زدند، علی الخصوص از میان شهرهای «حافظه» و «آرزو»، دو مجموعه دیگر مشتق شد؛ یکی «شهرها و چشم ها (با ویژگیهای عینی و قابل مشاهده)»، دیگری «شهرها و داد و ستدها (با ویژگیهای مربوط به خرید و فروش)»؛ داد و ستد امیال و آرزوها، قسمت و عاقبت نیک، یا بد انسان ها؛ برعکس «شهرهای پیوسته» و «شهرهای پنهان» را، در زمره دو مجموعه ای گذاشتم، که آنها را، برای بیان مقصود مشخصی نوشتم، بدین معنا که وقتی درک کردم به کتاب چه مفهوم و معنای خاصی خواهم داد، این دو مجموعه را انتخاب کردم؛ برای اینکار از میان اوراقی که برای نوشتن کتاب آماده کرده بودم، بهترین ساختار را برای آن دو برگزیدم، زیرا میخواستم از آنها یک در میان، به نحوی استفاده کنم، که از طرفی شهرهای دیگر را، به هم ارتباط دهند؛ و از طرفی نظم زمانی و مکانی آنها را نیز، دگرگون نکنند؛ دست آخر تصمیم گرفتم، دقت خود را، بر یازده گروه متشکل از پنج شهر، برای هر گروه؛ متمرکز کنم، و آنها را در فصلهای متفاوت، که از گروههای مختلف همگون ساخته شده، و دارای روحی مشترک هستند، قرار دهم؛ گرچه بسیاری از منتقدین، در مورد چگونگی آمد و شد گروه ها، مطالعات بسیار کرده اند، امّا انتخاب آنها خیلی ساده بوده است.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 20/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 07/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,179 followers
February 3, 2019

The photo is of new and old Shanghai, photographed by Greg Girard in 2000 (source), chronologically equidistant between my two visits there. It is, and maybe always has been, a city of contrasting, unequal, parts and pairs, like many of the Invisible Cities.

Each man bears in his mind a city made only of differences.


I’ve been eavesdropping on the mysterious, hypnotic conversations between a famous explorer from antiquity and the powerful emperor of a distant land: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.

Exotic places are conjured by gestures, emblems, and words. Then the tables turn, and the Khan describes the cities of his dreams and asks Polo if they exist.

But is it the 55 cities bearing female names, or many aspects of a single city (Venice), or nearer a hundred cities (many of them have twins or doubles)?

Submit to Enchantment

It’s deliciously slippery collection of prose poems about places, grouped by words and numbers, repeated in different permutations that defy a single interpretation (though many have been applied, including sine waves). It suggests multiple routes of reading, much like some of the twisted and recursive paths through the cities themselves. There are Cities and Memory, Cities and Desire, Cities and Signs, Thin Cities, Trading Cities, Cities and Eyes, Cities and Names, Cities and the Dead, Cities and the Sky, Continuous Cities, and Hidden Cities.

It purports to be about physical places, but as it explores “the invisible order that sustains cities”, there are twists and forks in time as well as geography: “the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time”.

I fear that if I try to constrain these kaleidoscopic and sometimes paradoxical visions to black and white marks on a screen, I will somehow kill the enchantment – for myself as well as for anyone reading.


These are places you must experience for yourself, walking the streets; crossing the canals; peering in windows; holding your nose at the stench; marvelling at the architecture; gazing at the underclad bathing beauties; exploring the exotic markets; puzzling at the frequent mentions of pipes, taps, gutters, and sewers; choking on smoke, and always seeking fresh revelations.

As you wander, you can wonder how the cities are simultaneously similar and yet startlingly different: it’s never clear quite what real and what is not, what is cause and what is effect. Perhaps that’s part of the invisibility of the title.

Whether this is travelling through China, Calvino, Venice or an atlas in a library, your journey will not be the same as mine, and nor will my subsequent ones. We will not be the same people, either.

Meanwhile, in another city, another Cecily is writing a completely different review…

Related Books

• This was my second Calvino. Structurally, it can seem much simpler than If on a winter’s night a traveler, but it’s oddly harder to review.

• A few months before this, I read and loved Andrew Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. Having read Invisible Cities, I now realise how heavily influenced Lightman was: in content, structure, style… every way. Whether you class it as homage or borderline plagiarism is debatable, but it does not detract from my enjoyment at the time, and I think Lightman’s book is probably the more accessible of the two, even though it is primarily about physics/time, rather than geography.

• Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion portrays a magical Venice of shifting routes that is beautifully reminiscent of Calvino.


• “The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”
• “Anastasia awakens desires one at a time only to force you to stifle them, when you awaken in the heart of Anastasia one morning your desires waken all at once and surround you… You believe you are enjoying Anastasia wholly when you are only its slave.”
• “You penetrate it along its streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things.”
• “Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages.”
• “Does your journey take place only in the past?”
• “Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had… Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.”
• “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears.”
• “The most fixed and calm lives… are spent without any repetition.”
• “The exhalations that hang over the roofs of the metropolises, the opaque smoke that is not scattered, the hood of miasmata that weighs over the bituminous streets. Not the labile mist of memory nor the dry transparance, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer flows, the jam of past, present, future that blocks existences calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would find at the end of your journey.”
• “Traveling, you realize that differences are lost… Your atlas preserves the differences.”
• “A voluptuous vibration constantly stirs Chloe, the most chaste of cities. If men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a person with whom to being a story… and the carousel of fantasies would stop.”
Profile Image for Gaurav.
170 reviews1,216 followers
July 17, 2016
It's easy to describe what 'Invisible Cities' is not rather than what it is as it's really very difficult to ascertain which category it can be put into; it neither has a clear plot nor characters are developed as they normally are, it can't be called a novel or collection of stories, can't be put in any one genre since it surpasses so many; but still something extraordinary, something which can't be described in words, which can only be felt.

The book has loose dialogues between emperor- Kublai Khan and a Venetian explorer-Marco Polo, Polo is ordered to explore the empire of the Khan and to tell parables with which to regale the ageing, and frequently impatient conqueror with descriptions of every city he has visited on his long peregrinations through Kingdom of Kublai Khan.

The parables are surreal in nature and prose is very lyrical however I wonder how lyrical it would be in its original language. The book is divided into parables about fifty five imaginary cities which are categorized into eleven groups of memory, desire, sign, thin, trading, eyes, names, dead, sky, continuous and hidden.

Different groups are associated with different themes, as Cities & Memory stories are philosophical thought experiments about nostalgia, history; discarding old Memories which are formed through word of mouth and forming their own.
-"As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands."
-"The city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember...."

At this point I feel It's not possible to review the book though I made a futile attempt; and the more I think about the book the more I feel I have to re-read it and then read it again.

However there is one thing which I can surely say about 'Invisible Cities'that it's 'A lucid dream: one which can be experienced and can't be described'.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book935 followers
February 21, 2021
After travelling to the Far East for more than twenty years, Marco Polo sailed back to his Venice hometown and, upon arriving, was taken prisoner by the invading army of Genoa. And so his journey ended at the bottom of a cell. As a precursor of captive writers such as Cervantes or Dostoyevsky, Marco Polo then went on to write a large book about his travels: the Livre des merveilles du monde (Book of the Marvels of the World, ca. 1300 AD).

To us, 21st-century fast-paced tourists and business travellers (except when a global pandemic strikes!), the world is a monotonous place. You can probably eat the same tasteless McDonalds burger everywhere you go. But, to a man of the 13th century, who usually would never in his whole life have gone further away from home than the next town, you would think that travelling to the other end of the world would have been a dazzling experience! In a way, you would be wrong… What came to the older Marco Polo’s memory from his journey to China did not feel quite marvellous enough, and he went on to embellish his tale with fantastical embroideries… To such an extent that, when leafing through his book, you would hardly be able to believe that he actually went there.

More than half a millennia later, Italo Calvino, Marco Polo’s distant countryman, decided to elaborate further on the Livre des Merveilles’ shimmering and misleading pictures of the world. Invisible Cities (1972) is a book in the form of a dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo: the former, overwhelmed by the vastness of his Mongol Empire — which, at the time, extended from the Baltic Sea to Japan and Vietnam —, asks the Italian traveller to describe the cities he has visited during his voyage before reaching the court of Xanadu. So Marco Polo, as we have seen, concocts exotic and outlandish descriptions of cities he has never seen: literally, invisible cities. Justifiably, the great Khan asks Marco Polo in Calvino’s book: “I do not know when you have had time to visit all the countries you describe to me. It seems to me you have never moved from this garden”.

Invisible Cities is like a medieval bestiary or herbarium: a fanciful list of everything that God has (or ought to have) created under a specific category. There are fifty-five-women-name-bearing cities catalogued in Calvino’s book, arranged into a fastidious series of themes (typical of mid-20th-century formal music and French literature). Each vignette is very short — about a couple of pages long at most. However, all are incredibly evocative and intriguing, like pictures out of the nightmare of an urbanist. Some cities, just as actual cities, are just made of dreams, desires and fears, others of lost memory, of opposing deserts or opposing gods, of stage roles, of endless repetitions, of conceptual differences, of moving parts, of pure verticality, upward or upside down, of thousands of identical faces, of boundless wastelands, inexhaustible dumps, untold graves, bottomless latrines, countless stars.

All in all, each dense and intricate description of a fantastical city is, in and of itself, as the seed of a more significant novel (say, like Reeve’s Mortal Engines?). Each page is a barely veiled evocation of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories and M. C. Escher’s drawings. The wonderful Cités obscures graphic novels by Schuiten and Peeters, published a few years later, also come to mind. All are indeed highly cerebral authors.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books513 followers
April 21, 2023
My review of Invisible Cities is published at Before We Go Blog.

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

Invisible Cities is a tour de force from Italo Calvino, the late Italian master of speculative fiction. This uniquely constructed novel is set in the late thirteenth century in the court of Kublai Khan. The Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, captivates the Tartar Emperor with descriptions of the cities from his unprecedented travels. By this time, the Mongol Empire has grown to be the largest that the world has ever seen. In the future, it will be eclipsed only by the British Empire in terms of the land area under its control.

The Empire has grown so large that the Great Khan feels like he doesn’t even know his own lands. He only learns about the far-flung cities in and beyond his Empire through the stories of travelers, and the well-traveled and poetically tongued Marco Polo is the greatest explorer and storyteller of them all.

Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan of wondrous and beautiful cities, cities of passion and desire, cities of memory, cities of light and the sky, trading cities, cities of signs, hidden cities, cities of the dead. The Great Khan is captivated by Marco Polo’s poetic descriptions throughout Invisible Cities.

While Marco Polo introduces each city by a different name, it soon becomes apparent that the descriptions are actually different facets of a single city: his beloved hometown of Venice. In this sense, Invisible Cities becomes Italo Calvino’s love letter to Venice.

But the scope is much broader than we think. It’s true that each description is a different aspect of Venice. But in Invisible Cities, Marco Polo is really describing all cities the world has ever seen or ever will see. He is describing ancient cities like Babylon, future cities like Los Angeles, and even mythical cities like Atlantis or Utopia. He is describing the universe of all possible cities that could ever exist, now, in the past, in the future, or in some alternate reality.

It is hard for me to describe the beauty and nuance of Invisible Cities. Just as Marco Polo describes his hometown in this work, as a reader you will find him describing yours as well. Italo Calvino will lead you to discover new and beautiful facets of urbanity in your own surroundings.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,254 followers
July 24, 2023
This a litany of cities (55) obviously fictitious, exquisitely described by Marco Polo to the great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan... he is understandably dubious. Imagination flows gently through the words of Marco Polo at the grand royal palace in Beijing, towns nobody seen let alone accept. The renowned traveler enjoys visiting new places some very beautifully chronicled by him these settlements but with a touch of creativity which the mind cannot fathomed, yet amaze, city after city, superb even those floating in the air unreachable to all, others underground the citizens in them oblivious to the rest of the world, those looking up feel jealous the mystery unexplained, walls impregnable, roads which take you away from the towns but never to them, sea ports, inland isolated metropolises alone in the vast deserts, they glitter in the sunshine and fade at night. Strangely
though the great khan notices no mention of Venice...You would think the continuous page after page of rather unbelievable cities would get monotonous but this is incorrect, as such allure is never boring. The architecture so fantastic it could not exist on the Earth only in the bottomless mind. People like to hope in something they know is impossible their run- of- the - mill lives are unexciting, needing to be charmed, stimulated, dream about what's over the other side of the hill. This will always be true the stories that take them from the humdrum to the heights are perpetual in fashion, humans strive to arrive in a land of the riddle and try solving the enigma, may this be forever. The author of the book Italo Calvino Cuban born with Italian parents , an unique magnificent writer of the visual who lived in Italy. Both a journalist, short story writer and novelist he engaged in, becoming a master of fantasy as shown here and rich, famous, few could capture its essence better. For the person who wants to escape reality and spend a little time in the what could be, imagination is another way to live at least for a short while...Isn't that enough?
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,278 followers
October 8, 2015
One could easily declare that the protagonists of this book are the cities, which are different versions of the same city that doesn’t really exist, only maybe in the writer’s mind. Either Venice or Paris, Calvino’s cities are a trip through imagination to lives never had, doors never opened, people never met.

Someone else might appoint the reader as the real protagonist of Calvino’s book for he becomes the traveler who visits these cities mentally, which are nothing else than representations of his current mood, his past experiences and his unverbalized longings. The cities change shape and adapt to the traveler’s desires, they blend together into that tenuous moment between sleep and waking, the split second when dreaming occurs.

The interpretation of a third reader might allude to the allegoric meaning of the interludes between the extravagant descriptions of the cities where Marco Polo proves the deceitful nature of language to the Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan through silent gesticulation. The Venetian merchant
smuggles moods, states of grace and elegies instead of material riches, maybe as a metaphor to show the Chinese ruler that conquering cities is like accumulating empty shells, a nothingness that lacks cohesion, for their true wealth is to be found in their people, not in the physical space they inhabit. How does one imprison souls?

Free style.
Truth is I am unable to tell you what this book is about. It’s certainly not about what I wrote above. But maybe it is. Every reader will discover its meaning in the surrealistic patterns of titles and alternating themes that give shape to an unrepeatable skyline, a personal print that will only fit the soul of each traveler.

To me, Calvino’s cities represent the deadlock between dreams and reality and the way we connect them in our minds to dominate the pulse of time. Unsought memories carry the heavy load of past experiences, and that burden of nostalgia opens the door to unfulfilled desires that materialize into the tangible futures we will never own. How many lives can the keen observer recreate in his mind? How many times can we alter the past in mental recreation, bring the dead back to life by thinking of them? But remembering doesn’t come face forward, it ambushes you around sideways and oftentimes traps you in a deadly embrace, and the reflected image may replace the original thought.

In the end, amidst a labyrinthine maze of canals, ancient Gods of locals and foreigners clinging to the threshold of upside down doors and black-and-white strings attaching relationships between the inhabitants of a spider-web city, I couldn’t resist the allure of Maurilia. This was the city where I could finally put my discombobulated mind at rest. The comfortable safety of its sepia postcards brought me back to the cozy evenings with granny when I had only to concentrate on the invisible map her bonny fingers scratched gently on my back after a tepid day at school. Calvino led me to here and now to type these words that make her precious presence more real than ever. I can even delineate the shape of the sound of her fluttering voice clearly in my head. Hello, Granny. Thank you, Calvino.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,943 reviews609 followers
July 12, 2023
Marco Polo dialogues with Kublai Khan, telling him how he feels about the imaginary cities he has visited. Each small chapter composes them: towns and memory, cities and desire, tapered cities, cities and gaze, and cities and the dead, with a few variations. I believe that to appreciate this text better, it would be necessary to provide a decoder. Unfortunately, I had not been transported as hoped; he slightly annoyed me.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,636 followers
September 3, 2019
This is my favourite Calvino book and the one I always suggest to friends to ask me for an interesting easy read or a start into Calvino's universe. It is hard to write a long review here without giving away the entire story but suffice it to say that it is poetic prose at its best.

In a nutshell, Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan the various cities he has been to before his visit to China between 1271 and 1275 CE. Each description is more fanciful and beautiful than the previous and there is a spectacular poetic dénouement.

The nearest equivalent in graphic novels for me would be the many melancholy works of Schuitten in Les Cités Obscures series. A total classic and must read.
Profile Image for فؤاد.
1,066 reviews1,757 followers
February 2, 2018

من و شيراز
خوب يادم است كه وقتى چهارده پانزده ساله بودم، در خيالاتم شيراز را شهرى تصور مى كردم با ساختمان هاى قديمى، با ايوان هاى كاشيكارى شده، و مخصوصاً با درخت هايى در هر خيابان كه در بهار گلبرگ هايشان با هر باد مى ريزد ميان خيابان و فرش راه عابران مى شود (بعدها اين صحنه را در باغ هاى بادام قزوين تجربه كردم). تصورى كه فكر مى كنم غربى ها تا پنجاه سال پيش از شرق داشتند.
و خوب يادم است كه وقتى در همان سال ها به شيراز سفر كردم، چقدر سرخورده شدم از خيابان هاى معمولى، با ساختمان هاى معمولى، با درخت هاى معمولى. اين جا چراغ راهنماست كه هزارتايش را در هر شهرى ديده ام، اين جا ديوارها را پر كرده اند از پوسترهاى انتخاباتى همان طور كه در شهر خودمان هم مى كنند، اين جا شهردارى ميدان را حصار فلزى كشيده و كارهاى ساختمانى مى كند، با ماسه و سيمان و ماشين هاى ساختمان، انگار نه انگار كه اين خيابان و اين ميدان و اين شهر هفتصد سال قبل در كنار شاه شجاع و سعد بن ابوبكر زنگى و ساقى سيمين بر، موضوع غزل هاى حافظ و سعدى بوده.
آن زمان با خودم فكر كردم: ببين چطور مدرن سازى دست و پا شكسته شرقى، مانند آن زاغ و كبك معروف، هر چه شرقى بوده را از دست داده و در مقابل حتى شبيه به غرب هم نشده. و نوستالژى سال هاى دوردست به جانم افتاد، و تا مدت ها رهايم نكرد. فكر مى كردم مشكل از مدرن سازى است، وگرنه شيراز ماقبل مدرن سازى حتماً شهرى از جنس رؤيا و اثير بوده. و از يك تصور اشتباه به يك تصور اشتباه ديگر افتادم.
لازم بود مدت ها بگذرد و راجع به شكل و شمايل سال هاى دوردست ايران كمى بخوانم تا متوجه شوم يك شهر همان احساسى نيست كه از شنيدن نامش به ما دست مى دهد. يك شهر آن ايده اى نيست كه با حذف آجرها و آسفالت ها و كيسه هاى سيمان شهردارى و چراغ هاى راهنما، باقى مى ماند. اين ايده، اين احساس، جايش در ذهن ماست، به شهر معنى مى دهد، اما شهر اين معنى نيست. اشتباه است اگر فكر كنيم زمانى در قديم بوده كه شهر فقط و فقط از جنس ايده و رؤيا بوده، بدون هيچ پوستر انتخاباتى اى، يا چراغ راهنمايى، يا ماشين هاى ساختمانى اى. شهر يك كل نيست، شهر هيچ چيز نيست، تنها چيزى كه وجود دارد خانه ها و خيابان ها و آدم ها هستند.

كمى هم راجع به كتاب
كتاب بى نظير است. مثل يك رؤياى مكتوب است. ماركوپولو در قصر قوبلاى خان در چين، ماجراى شهرهاى غريبى كه ديده است را بازگو مى كند. كتاب مجموعه ايست از اين گزارش هاى كوتاه راجع به شهرهاى مختلف. هر شهر يك ايده جادويى يا فلسفى-مانند دارد، گاهى راجع به معمارى شهر، گاهى راجع به رسوم شهر، و... ايده هايى كه هم آدم را به فكر مى برد، و هم به ذوق مى آورد.

نقاشى بيشتر شهرهاى كتاب روى اينترنت هست. سر هر شهر فورى مى رفتم سرچ مى كردم و نقاشى ها را تماشا مى كردم و اين لذت كتاب را مضاعف مى كرد. این وسط یک نقاش خوب هم کشف کردم، به اسم ژرار ترینیاک*، که دو تا از نقاشی هایش را بالا گذاشتم.

* Gerard Trignac
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,486 followers
November 15, 2015
I live in a city, and every day I ride the subway with people who live in different cities. Aggressively loud teenagers, exhausted laborers with grimy hands, sparkling skinny women in careful clothes, Michael Cera: I don't think they would recognize my city.

But we find our city, and our city finds us, right? The Flamethrowers' artist Reno moves to a New York full of artists madly creating. Patrick Bateman is fake, and he lives in a fake New York. The Street's Lutie lives in a cruel New York, and she becomes cruel. The city invents us, and we invent the city.

I play a game when I travel to other cities: what makes this city special? In Barcelona you think of Gaudi, but that's like identifying a guy by his hat. It can be useful, don't get me wrong, and he's wearing that hat for a reason, but underneath he is mostly the same organs. Is he nice?

As a tourist, I see a lot of hats.

Some cities are legitimately different. Worcester, Mass is legitimately shitty. Las Vegas really is your dangerously bipolar cousin.

Cities are uniquely mutable, because they have to be. It takes all kinds of people to make a city, so it has to suit all kinds of people. When you ask someone to describe their city, you're asking them how they see the world, and how the world sees them. I saw a dude throw a chicken bone on the subway floor the other day: his world has been ugly to him, full of negative interactions and ugly things. It's all trash. (I didn't actually ask, I just projected a bunch of shit on him.)

My New York is a utopia. Everyone has a weird hobby and a rescued pit bull, and there are wine tastings on every corner. I'm lucky.

I've been reading Invisible Cities on the subway, a chapter each way, looking around me and thinking, "Do I see anyone who lives in this city? The city of threads? The city of mirrors?" I imagine they're looking back and thinking, "If that bald guy keeps staring at me I'm going to punch him." My dog rides the subway with me. I can't imagine what city he lives in.

What's your city like? Seriously, I'm interested.
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
September 3, 2017
You landed in my world on a calm, dewy evening
And struck was I with a song I was about to sing;
A song that lay hidden in the silhouettes of each letter
That protruded from the cover, all poised to embitter.

But waited I, patiently, under the light of the mundane day;
You see, Mr. Calvino, I had a knack of seeing your way.
Fusing the curious with the depth, and peppering them with some humor too;
All too often, you had served, a world that was both fictional and true.

So, on a fine evening, when all your cities rose, at once, to a noisy chatter,
I exited my world and entered yours, as it was now, an urgent matter.

Welcome!, said Kublai Khan, The Imperious Chinese Emperor,
Even as he kept his gaze fixed at one particular Conjurer.
This particular Conjurer bore remote resemblance to the mighty Apollo;
Ah! He had his name! ‘Step in.’, said the Venetian, Marco Polo.

And so, with his highness Khan, I embarked on a tour of his empire,
Ably recounted for us, through the dazzling eyes of his humble sire.

While Isidora dyed me old even as my dreams kept fluttering in their youthful room,
Anastasia set my desires and memories in a vicious cycle, not knowing who fuels whom;
Zora pumped heavy sighs from the womb of forgotten cities,
As Mauralia lulled me into a nostalgic film of small felicities.

Said Marco Polo, all cities are same – same in desire and dementia, promise and insipidity, joy and remorse,
“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

I paused to ponder, questioning him aloud about the revelations he just made,
But he continued to lead me into more cities, bustling with myths, death and trade.
He played with my biases at Baucis where people resided on clouds instead,
He suspended my belief in Octavia where the entire city stood running on a net!
Hopping Hypatia, Armilla, Beershaba and Leonia, when I stepped into Thekla,
Marco Polo held back my hand, ‘Watch out, work is still on this messy land.’
”Why the construction is still on? I asked a peddler scurrying by,
“So that its destruction cannot begin.” was his curt reply.
Walking gingerly in an air of puzzle, I witnessed Olinda and Procopia in a mild jostle,
One seemed to hold many cities in her womb and the other kept multiplying her people.

I stood there, letting the horses of my thoughts, to run amok these many cities,
To gauge what lied beneath this expedition, this mind-boggling imaginative treatise.
I opened my mouth to ask but Mr. Calvino, you appeared from nowhere,
‘The tour is over!’ is all you said, not paying heed to my nasty stare.

Here I am now, jumbling my geography and history, and a bit of memory as well
And filling mighty gaps that can serve as a decent rejoinder, I have this to tell -
Essential is not the fact whether these cities can be discovered on a map;
The essence lies, instead, in hunting for a common stamp.
A common stamp that shall impart an identity free of colour and creed,
Irrespective of our place of birth, shall bind us with the same deed.
Deed bellowing swirls of compassion, industry and honesty sans any chagrin
And a city of such deeds doesn’t lie outside but reigns unequivocally within.

Trust Mr. Calvino to show you, how subliminal accounting of life appears,
Follow Mr. Calvino to receive in your lap, sparkling wishes to last years.
Beware of his trap though! Don’t fall for his genius all too much,
Oh but this is futile warning, for there is no way to escape his touch.


The tour snippet is here!

Because in my book, both are paragons of imagination.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
December 2, 2015
In writing, pretension is the act of pulling your hamstring while lifting your pen. It is that sudden, clear, and unfortunate. It should also be avoidable, but anyone gifted with a grain of brilliance is tempted to extend it as far as they can, like Donne's speck of dust stretched the length of the universe, one is left wondering whether it was more ludicrous or thought-provoking.

Calvino's 'Invisible Cities' is a series of descriptions of mythical, impossible cities told by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. Each short description is like one of Donne's metaphysical poems: presenting a philosophical argument or idea and then turning it on its head. As an Italian, Calvino drew his inspiration from the same source as Donne: Francesco Petrarch.

Petrarch is the innovator of the modern sonnet, the modern love poem, and 'confessional' poetry. However, before you all wish him dead(er), his 'love' and 'confessions' were only the cover for his philosophical explorations. Like Sidney, Shakespeare, Wyatt, and the Victorian poets (Keats, Browning, Byron), the surface of the poem is not the whole story.

Also like Petrarch, Calvino's short pieces all work together to create a grander story, using repetition and developing symbols to create webs of meaning from one story to any other. Both Petrarch and Calvino take a narrow view for their collections, one Love and the other Cities, but Petrarch does more with his.

Calvino's repetition is sometimes interesting and meaningful, but often, it seems like he's still trying to hash out his ideas. Some of the cities are remarkable and poignant, but others somewhat scattered and redundant.

The frame story of Polo and Kublai also vacillates in profundity. At it's best, it questions the nature of human relationships, interaction, understanding, and language barriers. At other times it descends into New Age metaphysics and solipsism: endlessly wondrous, endlessly pointless, and perfect for capturing the imagination of the first-year philosophy major.

These moments of overextension are balanced by some truly thought-provoking and delightful observations and questions about the nature of the world and the senses. The book is truly dreamlike, in that one dream may alter the way you look at life, while the next one will be about bass fishing with Julie Newmar in your underwear; fun perhaps, but not lasting.

Calvino has a great talent, and a remarkable mind, but it's clear that he was bent on transgressing and ignoring boundaries, and hence often crosses the limits of his own skill. This uninhibited exploration is truly something every author and artists should aspire to, but the false leaps should be left behind in editing.

As redundancy and vagueness builds up, we can see the areas of difficulty and obsession for Calvino, for these always end with a shrug instead of the final thrust that carries us over his more salient points. While in these cases he might have made the journey itself the important part, he tends to concentrate on the ends, even when he proves incapable of reaching them.

Walking the same roads again and again looking for something and failing to find it is not the mark of the fantastical fabulist, but of the minute realist. Calvino's story is never small and personal, even when detailed and nostalgic, it is hyperbolic and magical.

When he dances around some vague point, he is not Ariosto, presenting the limits of mankind: Calvino gives us his own limits. The descriptions are far-flung and often set the mind reeling with humor or more poignant observation. That he sometimes overextends himself is not such a crime, when occasionally, he does reach those heights.

It's true to say that this book is not any one thing, that it defies description and draws from many sources and traditions, but neither do these varying and disparate influences coalesce into some wholly new vision. The closer he comes to any climax or conclusion, the more he grows uncertain.

I'm not suggesting that such a climax is necessary--indeed, in a loosely-structured work like this, where the most effective aspect is the comparison and contradiction between each individual piece, shoehorning in such a convenient conclusion wouldn't really work--neither Petrarch nor Borges needed one. In their great collections, one could start almost anywhere, and end almost anywhere, without having lost the thread of their thoughts.

What frustrates about Calvino is that he's constantly pushing towards conclusion, and harping on it despite the fact that such a conclusion is not even necessary--indeed, a work like this achieves its effect by the questions it asks, not the answers that it tries to give. So, Calvino ends up giving us numerous empty answers when simple silence would have been far more provocative.

Is it ever really meaningful to end by stating 'maybe it is this way, maybe it is that way, maybe nothing exists at all'? What do we gain by saying this that we would not have by simply leaving it unsaid? The author who imagines stating that his own ignorance is profound is simply exercising the vanity of false humility.

Better to let the observations and moments of wit speak for themselves. If the reader is not reminded of his own short-sightedness by these, then telling him he is short-sighted certainly won't help.

I must say that these moments of falling flat could have been a subtlety of William Weaver's translation, but since such an issue is beyond my meager means to fully explore, I felt it better to tender my review to the book I read, rather than to the book that might exist out there, somewhere.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
March 12, 2015
Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk of cities Marco has visited.

Where to begin with this one? I thought the writing was beautiful. Calvino and his translator painted vivid pictures of various cities, each a seemingly magical realm with its own quirks. As Marco tells more and more stories, Kublai questions the nature of his empire.

Unfortunately, very little actually happens. While they are very well written, the individual city tales read almost like entries in a poet's travel journal. There's not really an actual story unless you consider an ongoing conversation between two historical figures a plot.

While I'm glad I read it and I thought the writing was masterful, I don't feel like gushing about this particular book. Three out of five stars.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
530 reviews489 followers
August 15, 2023
Invisible Cities is quite a strange book. It chronicles the dialogue between Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor, and Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler, wherein the latter describes the cities of the empire from his travels to the former. Over 9 chapters, Marco describes 55 cities divided into 11 thematic categories. The 55 cities, all bear female names. But the more cities Marco describes to Kublai Khan, the more he sees a certain resemblance of a pattern until he realizes that Marco Polo has all through described only one city, which is Venice.

Outwardly, the book is a beautiful nonsense. All you read is Marco Polo's nonsensical description of the cities to which he had traveled. But if you give more meaning to his words and look beyond their surface, the nonsense clears itself into a thought-provoking philosophy. Marco Polo's descriptions of the cities of his travels may sound abstract and nonsensical until you realize that it must be so, for one can only describe a thing according to his subjective perspective. Marco's descriptions of the cities of his travels are a hybrid of his memories, desires, and what he perceived through his naked eye. But what does he see through his naked eye? Does he see the cities of Kublai Khan's vast empire? Or do the cities elude his vision and become invisible?

Kublai Khan's desire to comprehend the present true state of the cities of his great empire is frustrated by Marco's descriptions. When Kublai demands Marco to describe his cities, with the help of a chessboard, only the great Khan comes to realize that what he seeks to comprehend, can never be comprehended. "Perhaps, instead of racking one’s brain to suggest with the ivory pieces’ scant help visions which were anyway destined to oblivion, it would suffice to play a game according to the rules, and to consider each successive state of the board as one of the countless forms that the system of forms assembles and destroys. Knowledge of the empire was hidden in the pattern drawn by the angular shifts of the knight, by the diagonal, passages opened by the bishop’s incursions, by the lumbering, cautious tread of the king and the humble pawn, by the inexorable ups and downs of every game. What were the true stakes? At checkmate, beneath the foot of the king, knocked aside by the winner’s hand, a black or a white square remains. By disembodying his conquests to reduce them to the essential, Kublai had arrived at the extreme operation: the definitive conquest, of which the empire’s multiform treasures were only illusory envelopes. It was reduced to a square of planed wood: nothingness. . . ."

The book is a beautiful work of philosophy. I was in awe once the comprehension began to dawn upon me. There was so much material to reflect on. I was thoroughly captivated by his beautiful writing and profound philosophy. My kindle is full of highlighted passages which is evidence in itself of how much I was enchanted by his words. I don't like to crowd my review with quotations, but I feel some of it is called for, in justice for this work. Therefore, I'll be sharing the following two quotations as a winding up to the review.

"Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone. “But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks. “The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.” Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.” Polo answers: “Without stones, there is no arch.”

"Perhaps, Kublai thought, the empire is nothing but a zodiac of the mind’s phantasms. “On the day when I know all the emblems,” he asked Marco, “shall I be able to possess my empire, at last?” And the Venetian answered: “Sire, do not believe it. On that day you will be an emblem among emblems.”

More of my reviews can be found at http://piyangiejay.com/
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,442 followers
April 28, 2023
O carte care se citește de plăcere, fragmentară și dezordonată: fabulosul (în care excelează Marco Polo) se intersectează cu poezia (în care excelează Italo Calvino) și, adeseori, cu înțelepciunea (în care excelează hanul Kubilai).

Cartea poate fi citită pe sărite, ca Rayuela lui Julio Cortázar, căci prezentarea orașelor „invizibile” nu urmează vreo ordine necesară, iar clasificarea lor e de tipul celei din enciclopedia chinezească, consultată (numai) de Jorge Luis Borges. O astfel de operă provine din parabolele lui Kafka și din Cartea ființelor imaginare, editată de același Borges (în colaborare cu Margarita Guerrero). Rezultatul e artificios și amuzant. Inutil să adaug că Marco Polo prezintă 55 de așezări, grupate în 11 secțiuni, asta au constatat deja toți cronicarii.

Conversația dintre Kubilai și Marco Polo se desfășoară în amurgul imperiului fără sfîrșit, controlat foarte vag de un han indiferent, preocupat mai degrabă de chestiuni metafizice decît de administrație. Acum căpetenia mongolă a înțeles că imperiul lui e în disoluție, că va deveni cît de curînd „o ruină fără sfîrșit”, dacă nu a devenit deja: „Știu prea bine că imperiul meu putrezește ca un hoit într-o mlaștină”. El e prea „măcinat de corupție ca sceptrul hanului să-l mai poată salva”. În definitiv, imperiul lui Kubilai are soarta oricărei construcții umane. Doar relatările lui Marco Polo îi pot oferi suveranului dezamăgit ceva care nu mai poate fi distrus, un șir incoruptibil de orașe a cărui / căror existență se întemeiază doar pe cuvinte. Și numai cuvintele nu amăgesc, de vreme ce realitățile se arată înșelătoare.

Puterea de invenție a naratorului provine din dorință și frustrare. Toate orașele au nume feminine. Cîteva sînt locuite de femei. În Isidora, străinul care ezită între două femei o întîlnește fără greș pe a treia, dar acest noroc nu-i folosește la nimic, pentru că străinul care a intrat în oraș e deja foarte bătrîn (deși se visează tînăr). În Despina, toate ferestrele de la parter sînt luminate și „în fiecare stă o femeie care se piaptănă”. În Zima, „o fată se plimbă cu o puma în lesă”, prin urmare, e inabordabilă. În Zobeide, bărbații au mereu și mereu același vis: zăresc o femeie care aleargă noaptea printr-un oraș necunoscut, cu părul despletit, goală, de o albeață strălucitoare. A doua zi o caută în van, femeia a dispărut. În Armilla, femeile stau tolănite în căzi de alabastru, se parfumează cu arome amețitoare sau își piaptănă pletele lungi. Și tot aici, prin canale subterane, au năvălit nimfele și naiadele. Cîntecul lor poate fi auzit în fiecare dimineață. În sfîrșit, o „vibrație desfrînată freamătă întruna în Chloe, cel mai cast oraș”.

M-am lungit. Ar mai trebui să spun că bătrînul han e un platonist, el și-a construit un model de oraș imuabil, o Formă din care pot fi deduse toate orașele sensibile. Marco Polo are o opțiune contrară: „Și eu mi-am închipuit un model de oraș din care le deduc pe toate celelalte. E un oraș făcut doar din excepții, opreliști, contradicții, incongruențe, contrasensuri”.

Deja e prea mult. Mai bine mă duc s-o visez pe femeia care aleargă despletită prin orașul necunoscut...
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,373 followers
August 10, 2018
Enchanting and majestically spellbinding, Calvino weaves us with descriptive beauty through the picturesque travels of Marco Polo who talks of wondrous cities to the imperial Kublai Khan. Less of a story and more an ordering and reordering of the emotional and philosophical reverberations of our civilized world, with an elegant poetic prose per chapter which resulted in 165 pages of pure imaginative bliss.
Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
212 reviews1,436 followers
June 29, 2017
A city inhabiting one’s inside, its streets, lanes and by-lanes running in the veins and arteries, the hubbub of the city enlivening even the tiniest fraction of a being. The city; living, breathing, growing and leaving an impression in the very essence, even if it is never visited in one’s lifetime. And then - a multitude of such cities, standing under the auspices of their heritage, a witness to the chronicles of their golden times, cities with their halos; an invisible but inescapable allure. Cities; rising with dusk, their pulses throbbing to the rhythm of stars. Cadence of street lights; illuminating in its glow, the stones of the wall of a building standing silently and witnessing bare human emotions/acts – love, passion, deceit, despair, joy, pain, indifference but above all a discreteness embodying the city. Cities, with its uneven alleys where an old man sit outside the door of his house, the wrinkles on his face telling the story of his life, his eyes a testimony of submission in the face of the inevitable, and a young, beautiful woman, selling seasonal flowers by the side; unnerving a quiescent thought. The labyrinthine roads which never seem to end, taking one forward, on and on, with their flow, adding a clutter of houses by the side, a face sneaking from a window; seeming a gateway to the unknown. The outline of houses in the sea by which they stand; the shadows in clear water defying the ephemeral. Cities, with those parks and boulevards where a curious seeker seeks the traces of path trodden by great authors and thinkers; an eagerness to associate with that one idea, a particular thought, capable of creating a summer inside…..

Let me seek those cities O my mind, cities invisible but living inside me….

Profile Image for StefanP.
163 reviews79 followers
July 22, 2021

Postoje dva načina da se ne pati. Prvi mnogima uspjeva: prihvatiti pakao i postati dio njega do te mjere da ga ne primjećuješ. Drugi je rizičan i zahtjeva neprekidnu pažnju i učenje: usljed pakla tražiti i prepoznavati ono što nije pakao, i činiti da traje, dati mu prostora.

Štagod da se izjalovi, gradovi će biti prisutni sa finesama koji će putniku pružati novu dimenziju. Ta dimenzija ne samo da ima svoj unutrašnji oblik, to će putnik u sebi morati da spozna, već će i spoljni, novi simboli da preuzmu vođstvo u tome kako će putnik da određuje svoj pogled na grad, pa i da ga pamti. Simboli grada moraju da se održavaju i njeguju kako bi grad održao spoljni izgled i time bio prigodan čovjekovom oku, jer u suprotnom oni polako propadaju i gase se odnosno prerastaju u nešto drugo. Tako Kalvino jednom prilikom kaže da je tajna grada u tome što poznaje samo odlaske a ne i povratke. Možda je kod putnika obrnut slučaj te on pamti samo dolaske? Kalvinovi gradovi su puni neke tajanstvenosti, poput Borhesovih priča, skloni su vječnom previranju iz jednog ka drugom pogledu. Kopanju rupe bez dna. Kalvino kroz Marka Pola prikazuje da unutrašnji život može da bude isto onako raznovrstan, šarolik i bogat iskustvom kao i život onog koji osvaja carstva i pronalazi nepoznate zemlje kao što je to svojevremeno činio mongolski poglavica Kublaj-kan.
Profile Image for Anu.
365 reviews889 followers
June 28, 2016
"What are men to rocks and mountains?" - Jane Austen
Or should I say, "What are men to cities and structures?"

I finish Invisible Cities as my parents plan their trip to Europe. As someone who loves going to new places and travelling, there is a sense of irony that I feel as I review this. As a 21 year old student with neither the money nor the means to embark on a journey myself, I find myself wandering about the cities that Marco Polo describes to the great Kublai Khan.

Invisible Cities is a fairy tale; albeit a fairy tale for adults. Calvino, who was surely high as a kite when he wrote this, describes in this tiny, yet profoundly powerful book, eleven kinds of "cities". Cities, they maybe, but they are the cities that we imagine. These are fantastical cities we lose ourselves in all day, everyday. These cities are not cities at all; they are the thoughts we think, the stories we imagine, and the people we think we perceive. Invisible Cities is an ethereal masterpiece that transports us to a world that we would like to see ourselves in, but would perhaps be disappointed to set foot in. It is that single moment of thought right before reality and dreams morph into one another. After all, the descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited had this virtue: you could wander through them in thought, become lost, stop and enjoy the cool air, or run off.

To the people who say that all these cities sound the same, I give you the Great Khan's reasoning: "Kublai Khan had noticed that Marco Polo's cities resembled one another, as if the passage from one to another involved not a journey but a change of elements. Now, from each city Marco described to him, the Great Khan's mind set out on its own, and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways, substituting components, shifting them, inverting them.:

I don't think I can do justice to the masterpiece that is Invisible Cities by writing about it myself; I am unworthy. I have, instead collected quotes by some of the world's best writers, quotes that sum up what each of these cities were to me.

"He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past." - George Orwell

"The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing — desire. - Willa Cather

"Signs may be but the sympathies of nature with man." - Charlotte Bronte

Thin Cities
"Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go." - Rebecca Solnit

Trading Cities
"Where there is commerce there is peace." - Jeffrey Tucker

"The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter - often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter - in the eye." - Charlotte Bronte

"We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society." - Alan W. Watts

"The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

"The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet." - Jandy Nelson

Continuous Cities
"You can checkout anytime you like, but you can never leave." - The Eagles

Hidden Cities
"If you stay here, you become lost. And no one can find you. I like lost." - Ally Kondie

At the aftermath of my surreal reading experience, I realised that every city is one of memory and of desire, of signs and of eyes. Every city is a thin city, every city is a trading city. Every city belongs to the dead; every city rules the skies, and every city is hidden. Every city is defined by its name, and every city is continuous. Every city is all of these cities; it is what we make it to be, it is how we perceive it. Like Venice. ""There is still one of which you never speak."
Marco Polo bowed his head.
"Venice," the Khan said.
Marco smiled. "What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?"
The emperor did not turn a hair. "And yet I have never heard you mention that name."
And Polo said: "Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice."
"When I ask you about other cities, I want to hear about them. And about Venice, when I ask you about Venice."
"To distinguish the other cities' qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice."

"It has neither name nor place. I shall repeat the reason why I was describing it to you: from the number of imaginable cities we must exclude those whose elements are assembled without a connecting thread, an inner rule, a perspective, a discourse. With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,000 reviews
June 29, 2022
مدن إيتالو كالفينو غير مرئية في الواقع, لقطات وملامح لمدن خيالية يحكي عنها الرحالة ماركو بولو
نصوص صغيرة تشبه اللوحات السريالية, خيال وغرائب تهت فيهم وأنا أحاول البحث عن المعنى وراء الكلمات
بعض المدن تركت أثر جميل ورغبة في العودة لها مرة أخرى
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,377 reviews12k followers
July 24, 2023

Italian author extraordinaire - Italo Calvino, 1923-1985

Invisible Cities - a Calvino novel to luxuriate in, to frolic in, to set your imagination on fire. So many fine reviews of this classic have appeared over the years by writers such as Joseph McElroy (1974 New York Times review, the year the novel appeared in English) and John Updike who observed,“Calvino was a genial as well as brilliant writer. He took fiction into new places where it had never been before, and back into the fabulous and ancient sources of narrative.”

So, rather than formulating my own review using a conventional format, here are ten questions we can ask ourselves while journeying with Calvino -

1. What are we to make of Calvino using two historical figures from the medieval period – Kublai Khan and Marco Polo – to frame his novel?

2. Is Calvino engaging in a bit of postmodern fun when he has Marco Polo include such things as refrigerators and airports in his descriptions of cities?

3. In what ways do cities, otherwise invisible, become visible to us through fiction?

4. What are the substantial differences between our memories of having visited a real city and having visited the cities in Calvino's Invisible Cities or other cities in other works of fiction? If we read in a state of heightened awareness, an awareness much keener than walking around a brick and mortar city half asleep, wouldn't this imagined city be more real for us?

5. Marco Polo describes fifty-five cities, all the cities bearing the name of a woman. What are the links between cities and the feminine?

6. At one point, Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan in his description of all of these cities, in a certain way, he is also describing Venice. How would you explain this?

7. Italo Calvino himself stated directed that Invisible Cities has no direct end, because "this book was made as a polyhedron, and it has conclusions everywhere, written along all of its edges." What do you make of the author's statement?

8. The structure of the novel can be seen to contain a good bit of mathematics (check out the Wiki entry on Invisible Cities with references to semiotics and structuralism). What connection to mathematics can you detect?

9. The fifty-five cities are divided into 11 groups as per below. What are the common qualities within each of the 11 groups? What is the significance of Calvino having 5 iterations of each of the 11 and how does each group relate to the others?

1. Cities & Memory
2. Cities & Desire
3. Cities & Signs
4. Thin Cities
5. Trading Cities
6. Cities & Eyes
7. Cities & Names
8. Cities & the Dead
9. Cities & the Sky
10. Continuous Cities
11. Hidden Cities

10. Which cities fire your own imagination the most and can you think of any other novel where imagination plays a more decisive role? I can't!

For me, the cities that have resonated the deepest are Calvino's Thin Cities. Here they are, each with a Calvino quote along with my comment.

This is the city of the thousand wells since it rises, or so it's said, over a deep, subterranean lake. "On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no father." With all the water, Isaura does indeed remind one of Venice.

"But what is certain is that if you ask an inhabitant of Zenobia to describe his vision of a happy city, it is always a city like Zenobia that he imagines." I can imagine denizens of a number of cities thinking their city the best, the one city they are more than happy to live it, cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco - and Venice. Oh, I forgot to mention my own city of Philadelphia!

This is the city that's all exposed plumbing, an entire city of pipes running vertically and horizontally. "At any hour, raising your eyes among the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many your women, slender, not tall of stature, luxuriating in the bathtubs or arching their backs under the showers suspended in the void, washing or drying or perfuming themselves, or combing their long hair at a mirror." Oh, baby, as a typical guy, I'd like to make a beeline to Armilla.

Here we have two half-cities pressed together - one half, a substantial city made with much stone, a city like Edinburgh, and the other half an amusement part/circus complete with roller coaster, Ferris wheels and big top tent. "One of the half-cities is permanent, the other temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city." Then the surprise: the Edinburgh-like half is the one that's temporary.

This is the spider-web city. "There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks." Any takers for a guided tour? By my modest judgement, one of the more unique of Marco Polo's (and also Calvino's) cities.

*Note: A special thanks to David Bordelon and the Ocean County College Globetrotters. I learned so much during our Zoom book discussion of this Calvino classic.
Profile Image for د.سيد (نصر برشومي).
289 reviews514 followers
January 31, 2023
مشكلة أن يكون العالم ظاهرا أو خفيا
أن يكون ظاهرا في الخفاء
في المناطق الواقعة خارج الكلام
الزحام الذي نخفيه أو نتخفى فيه
يواجهني إيتالو كالفينو بسرد يشق حاجز الصمت
بصور تنطبع فيها أفكار لم نقلها
بتصورات يدركها وعينا لم تتحول أبدا لصور قولية نلعب بها مع الآخرين
لأننا لا نتحمل تلك التساؤلات الغامضة الساكنة فيها
ينطلق خيالك صديقي القارئ في بحر كالفينو
ترسو معه لحظة في كل محطة
سيقوم الراوي بدور مرشد سياحي خبير لكنه مرهق
ولديه يقين أنك لن تجد الراحة في تلك النقلات السريعة
سيتخذ من قصر صيني عريق مرتكزا
لإمبراطور امتدت سلطته لعوالم متفرعة
بات يحلم بجديد لم يره في واقعه الذي لا يبلغ البصر منتهاه
يتطلع بشغف لما في الأذهان التي لا يستطيع أن يفتحها
أو لكلمات لا مثيل لها في أبجديته
يبحث عن وحدة التعدد
يتمنى لو اجتمع العالم في حضنه
ليشعر بهؤلاء الذين يعرفونه ولا يعرفهم
الراوي يحل في شخصية مغامر قديم
ارتحل من إيطاليا للشرق
وفي ثنائية الحاكم والحاكي
أو السلطان والبحار
يجتمع ماركو بولو وقوبلاي خان
ويروي البحار
ويسأل السلطان
لعبة السيجا تمتد في الأسحار
والرقعة أرض منزلقة من بحار
كل حالة شعورية ستجد لها مقابلا عمرانيا متخيلا
كل حلم غريب سينمو في فراغ معلق بين كائنات منطلقة من عتمة الوعي
ويقظة ذهنية تبحث عن جملة خبرية فلا تجد إلا المجاز
ما لا نراه في الواقع هنا
ما نراه في أنفسنا هنا
ما يتوارى في جيوب الخطابات هنا
سرد تجريدي موجز لمجلدات التاريخ
وموسوعات الحضارة
هذا الخيال مرعب يا صديقي
ضوء يغمر الصمت الذي يتدثر به عري أيامنا
اختيار أن تعتاد الجحيم باستسلام طقسي وديع
أو تنقب عن ذهب لا تعلن البورصات عن سعره
لأنها تعلم أن تلك الأشياء ليست للبيع
طريقة الكتابة تذكرك بالمؤر��ين العرب
الذين كتبوا عن مدن طواها الزمان
فغرقت في دوامات بعيدة
اندرست وتركت أحلاما تعوم في ذاكرة غائمة
بخاصة التاريخ المصري الذي تحدث عنه المسعودي والمقريزي
وبعض بلدان ياقوت الحموي التي رتبها على حروف الأبجدية في معجمه
كما فعل نجيب محفوظ في شخصيات المرايا وحديث الصباح والمساء
كالفينو يبحث عن صيغة وجود حضاري عبر الأزمنة
يلتقي فيها الشرق والغرب
وتنطلق الرموز من أسر المرجعيات المحددة
لعلنا نرى أنفسنا في فضاء الفكر
الذي يقطعه السرد ذهابا دون وصول
ولا يعود به إلى محطة الانطلاق التي غادرها صوت الراوي
وهو يمضي مصوبا ضوء كشافه لتبديد نقطة معتمة تجيد المراوغة
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