‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino is without a doubt one of my favourite books. The descriptions he paints are so tantalising and vivid I’ve re-read it many times, always seeing something different and appreciating a different nuance. As I flipped through it recently it struck me that a lot of the descriptions are not only fundamentally human centric in their exploration of different aspects of a city, but also preoccupied with ideas of eternity and immortality. So in light of our current competition ‘Immortal Architecture’ I thought I would share one particular chapter, the trading city of Ersilia, where the immortal aspect of the city is revealed not to be the buildings and streets but instead the interactions and complex relationships of the inhabitants. (Text Below)
In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or grey or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.
From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.
They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.
Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spider webs of intricate relationships seeking a form.
(Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, ISBN 9780099429838)