Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino ( describes Venice in the guise of a succession of 55 exotic and remote cities. It is an elegy placed in the mouth of Venetian traveller Marco Polo as he converses with emperor Kublai Khan.

Venice is disguised as the city of ‘Hypatia’, where you expect to find beauty but instead see crabs biting the eyes of drowned men; it is ‘Chloe’, a place full of strangers whose eyes meet momentarily in shared fantasies that no one ever acts on, so as not to spoil this great city’s ‘voluptuous vibration’; it is ‘Sophronia’, a city of two halves, one a fairground, the other a collection of classical marble monuments. When the temporary part of the city ends its seasonal visit it is dismantled and taken away – and the fairground that remains all year must wait for the moveable monuments to return.

Calvino’s poetic descriptions of urban life allow the reader to picture their own city or cities visited by them. This trades on the allure that cities have for most humans, in the sense that they hold out the promise of excitement and fulfilment. If all the cities are Venice for the author, it is because Venice is in a real sense the perfect distillation of the idea of a city. Ever since the Renaissance, when Shakespeare used it as the backdrop to his drama, Venice has floated in the world’s imagination as a paragon of cities, existing and fantastic at the same time. Many of the descriptions can be read as parables or meditations on culture, language, time, memory and death.

Check if this translated work of literary fiction is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at

102 pages in Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

First published in Italian as Le città invisibili in 1972

ISBN  978-0151452903

Italo Calvino

Scroll to Top