Excerpt 18

The Great Khan owns an atlas where all the cities of the empire and the neighbouring realms are drawn, building by building and street by street, with walls, rivers, bridges, harbours, cliffs. He realises that from Marco Polo’s tales it is pointless to expect news of those places, which for that matter he knows well: how at Kambalu, capital of China, three square cities stand one within the other, each with four temples and four gates that are opened according to the seasons; how on the island of Java the rhinoceros rages, charging, with his murderous horn; how pearls are gathered on the ocean bed off the coasts of Malabar.

Cities & the Sky . 5

Andria was built so artfully that its every street follows a planet’s orbit, and the buildings and the places of community life repeat the order of the constellations and the position of the most luminous stars: Antares, Alpharatz, Capricron, the Cephids. the city’s calendar is so regulated that jobs and ceremonies are arranged in a map corresponding to the firmament on that date: and thus the days on earth and the nights in the sky reflect each other.

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.

They looked at one another dumbfounded. “But why? Whoever said such a thing?” And they led me to visit a suspended street recently opened over a bamboo grove, a shadow-theatre under construction in the place of the municipal kennels, now moved to the pavilions of the former lazaretto, abolished when the last plague victims were cured––just inaugurated__ a river port, a statue of Thales, a toboggan slide.

“And these innovations do not disturb your city’s astral rhythm?” I asked.

“Our city and the sky correspond so perfectly,” they answered, “thatnay change in Andria involves some novelty among the stars.” The astronomers, after each change takes place in Andria, peer into their telescopes and report nova’s explosion, or a remote point in the firmament’s change of colour from orange top yellow, the expansion of a nebula, the bending of a spiral of the Milky Way. Each change implies a sequence of tother changes, In Andria as among the stars: the city and the sky never remain the same.

As for the character of Andria’s inhabitants, two virtues are worth mentioning: self confidence and prudence. Convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky’s pattern, before taking any decision they calculate the risks and advantages fro themselves and for the city and for all worlds.

Chapter 9.5 - p150

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