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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1043

Most of the best quotes in the Invisible Cities are part of the poetic descriptions of the 55 cities that Marco Polo describes to the Tartar leader Kublai Khan. The novel lists each city under one of 11 themes: City and desire, city and memory, city and signs, thin cities,...

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Most of the best quotes in the Invisible Cities are part of the poetic descriptions of the 55 cities that Marco Polo describes to the Tartar leader Kublai Khan. The novel lists each city under one of 11 themes: City and desire, city and memory, city and signs, thin cities, cities and trading, city and eyes, city and names, continuous cities and hidden cities.

Most of the cities of desire describe the beauty and sexual freedom of its inhabitants. For example, Polo describes the city of Dorothea in the following manner;

There are two ways of describing the city of Dorothea: you can say that four aluminium towers rise from its walls flanking seven gates with spring operated drawbridges that span the moat whose waters feeds four green canals which cross the city, diving it into nine quarters, each with three hundred houses and seven hundred chimneys . . . Or else you can say, like the camel driver who took me there: "I arrived here in my first youth, one morning, many people were hurrying along the streets toward the market, the women had fine teeth and looked you in the eye."

The cities of memories are often dream like cities that remind people of their past.


Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is the wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.

The cities of signs are often cities that give clues to who you are and where you are going.

In every point of this city you can, in turn, sleep, make tools, cook, accumulate gold, disrobe, reign, sell, question oracles. Any one of its pyramid roofs could cover the leprosarium or the odalisques' baths. The travel roams all around and has nothing but doubts: he is unable to distinguish the features of the city, the features he keeps distinct in his mind also mingle. He infers this: if existence in all moments is all of itself, Zoe is the place of indivisible existence.



Thin cities, like Armilla, can be unfinished and ghost like.

Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know The fact remains it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors, it has nothing that makes it seem a city.

Trading cities, like Chloe, are bustling but often unwelcoming place.

In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.

The inhabitants in cities with eyes always know what's going on.

Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror, and the Valdrada down in the water contains not only all the flutings and juttings of the facades that rise above the lake, but also the rooms' interiors with ceilings and floors, the perspective of the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes.

Cities with names have undergone many changes.

More decadences, more burgeonings have followed one another in Clarice. Populations and customs have changed several times; the name, the site, and the objects hardest to break remain. Each new Clarice, compact as a living body with its smells and its breath, shows off, like a gem, what remains of the ancient Clarices, fragmentary and dead.

Dead cities are, like Argia, polluted decadent cities.

What makes Argia different from other cities is that it has earth instead of air. The streets are completely filled with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling, on every stair another stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses hang layers of rocky terrain like skies with clouds.

Andria is classed a sky city because it bases its lay out on celestial bodies.

Though it is painstakingly regimented, the city's life flows calmly like the motion of the celestial bodies and it acquires the inevitability of phenomena not subject to human caprice. In praising Andria's citizens for their productive industry and their spiritual ease, I was led to say: I can well understand how you, feeling yourselves part of an unchanging heaven, cogs in a meticulous clockwork, take care not to make the slightest change in your city and your habits. Andria is the only city I know where it is best to remain motionless in time.

In continuous cities like Cecilia people struggle to find a way out.

Many years have gone by since then; I have known many more cities and I have crossed continents. One day I was walking among rows of identical houses; I was lost. I asked a passerby: "May the immortals protect you, can you tell me where we are?" "In Cecilia, worse luck!" he answered. "We have been wandering through its streets, my goats and I, for an age, and we cannot find our way out. . . ."

Hidden cities, like Berenice often have two sides: one official side and one unofficial underground one.

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, porticos, feel even more imprisoned and short of stature). Instead, I should tell you of the hidden Berenice, the city of the just, handling makeshift materials in the shadowy rooms behind the shops and beneath the stairs, linking a network of wires and pipes and pulleys and pistons and counterweights that infiltrates like a climbing plant among the great cogged wheels (when they jam, a subdued ticking gives warning that a new precision mechanism is governing the city).







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