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In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.
“Invisible Cities changed the way we read and what is possible in the balance between poetry and prose . . . The book I would choose as pillow and plate, alone on a desert island.” — Jeanette Winterson
morning the ill-humor of the day before, encrusted at the foot of the walls. For everyone, sooner or later, the day comes when we bring our gaze down along the drainpipes and we can no longer detach it from the cobblestones. The reverse is not impossible, but it is more rare: and so we continue walking through Zemrude’s streets with eyes now digging into the cellars, the foundations, the wells. Cities & Names 1 There is little I can tell you about Aglaura beyond the things its own
the ancient Clarices, fragmentary and dead. There is no knowing when the Corinthian capitals stood on the top of their columns: only one of them is remembered, since for many years, in a chicken run, it supported the basket where the hens laid their eggs, and from there it was moved to the Museum of Capitals, in line with other specimens of the collection. The order of the eras’ succession has been lost; that a first Clarice existed is a widespread belief, but there are no proofs to support it.
kept; it was leaping from the capitals and drainpipes, perching at the sleepers’ bedside. Sphinxes, griffons, chimeras, dragons, hircocervi, harpies, hydras, unicorns, basilisks were resuming possession of their city. Hidden Cities 5 I should not tell you of Berenice, the unjust city, which crowns with triglyphs, abaci, metopes the gears of its meat-grinding machines (the men assigned to polishing, when they raise their chins over the balustrades and contemplate the atria, stairways,
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). Lionized in Britain and America, he was, at the time of his death, the most-translated contemporary Italian writer.
the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no farther. Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one; everything that moves in the sunlight is driven by the lapping wave enclosed beneath the rock’s calcareous sky. Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura. The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that