The City of the Sun is a very short utopian novel written by a man who took his ideas very seriously. He wrote the novel while in prison for having tried to establish a community based on the concepts he was now describing.
The fictional framework for the story is sparse and simple. A Genoese sea-captain has returned from a voyage and is relating his discoveries to his host. He tells of a previously unknown land he discovered near Taprobane (Sri Lanka) that lies directly on the equator. Coming ashore the Captain is met by a party of armed men and women and escorted to their capital, the City of the Sun.
The City is built on a hill, rising in concentric walled rings like a giant wedding cake. Within each ring are built houses that look to the Captain like palaces and are interconnected by graceful arches and aerial walkways. The walls themselves are profusely decorated with images and artifacts that represent the accumulated wisdom of the inhabitants. At the summit of the city is an open plain large enough for the entire population to congregate, and at the very center an open-air temple surmounted by two great globes depicting in full detail the earth and the heavens.
The nation is ruled by a priest whose title is "Hoh." He is accounted the wisest among the citizens and is elected by life. Serving under Hoh are three high magistrates: "Power" (in charge of military affairs), "Wisdom" (responsible for the sciences), and "Love" (domestic affairs, education and agriculture). They are also elected for life. Under each of these is a hierarchy of elected magistrates with more specialized functions. Hoh, Power, Wisdom and Love are all men, but the lesser magistrates are a mixture of men and women. All residents over age 20, male and female, are eligible to vote and do so in a grand Council meeting where the entire population is assembled around the temple.
The City is a communist society where there is no private property, no money, and no family structure. Reproduction is under the control of a magistrate. "He sees that men and women are so joined together, that they bring forth the best offspring. Indeed, they laugh at us who exhibit a studious care for our breed of horses and dogs, but neglect the breeding of human beings." Men and women may share each other's company as they please, but unauthorized sexual intercourse is severely punished. Children are nursed by their mothers for two years, then taken away and raised in classes by tutors. They are sorted into various occupations according to their aptitudes, with the brightest becoming scientists and astrologers, the simplest being sent to work in the farms.
Citizens dress in identical garments and are assigned to communal housing by sex. They are moved every two years. Men and women eat together in large dining halls while listening to lectures on scientific topics. Learning is a passion for them, and the city walls are their text books. Children study by walking the circumference of the City and reading the walls, and this helps keep them physically fit as well. The nation is so obsessed with physical fitness that seated pastimes such as chess are forbidden.
Though the City has only just been discovered by Europeans, they have been aware of Europe for centuries and have sent explorers to all corners of the globe, learned every human language, and accumulated the wisdom of every culture. They have technologies far in advance of any other nation, including ships that move without oars or sails, and their military is both fierce and a source of great pride to the City.
The City of the Sun is a work full of novel and sometimes quirky ideas. One wishes Campanella had filled in more details, especially on the lives of average citizens. He obviously drew upon both Plato's The Republic and Thomas More's Utopia for some aspects of his City, but was more radical than either in his social organization. At the same time, as a lifelong believer in astrology, Campanella added a mystical aspect to his utopia that to a modern reader seems totally out of synch with its scientific accomplishments.