The paper deals with the formation and evolution of the world city network in the context of global urbanization. According to Braudel's historical studies, the paper argues that city networks originally emerged in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, in parallel with the institutional competition between city-state and national territorial state for the governance of society. Nowadays, this competition is coming back as the world is caught between pressures for an increasingly city-based political economy and for the resurgence of state-based direction. In this light, the paper briefly discusses the evolution of the "urban theory" towards interpretations more and more centred on the relational nature of cities and outlines an analytical framework for representing inter-city relations. Consequently, this framework is applied to the study of the present world city network. Some features of the network are illustrated and particular attention is devoted to the positioning and role of the Italian cities inside the network. Finally, some policy implications are discussed.