Breathing the History Basel

by | Sep 29, 2022

Although the earliest traces of settlement in what is now Basel date back 2900 years, the city that grew to become to the thriving hub of north-west Switzerland really began to take shape under Roman rule, acquiring the name Basilia in the 4th century.

It was some of this long and often distinguished history that members and friends of W+ B went to explore on our early autumn Community event on 25 September, under the guidance of local amateur historian Stephan Buchmann. Our group of 16 began at the Totentanz, named after a late Middle Ages painting near the Predigerkirche – a memento mori that death takes everyone out of life, regardless of their status.We continued west, climbing the Rheinsprung to the Münsterplatz, a reminder that religious development went hand-in-hand with trade at this major crossing point over the Rhine linking northern Europe with its southern neighbours. The legacy of names such as Erasmus, Felix Platter, Sarasin, Bernoulli, Hans Holbein and Merian are still evident as we passed the Muensterberg to the bustling and now-pedestrianised Freiestrasse. We continued to the Barfüsserplatz, once part of the marshy Birsig River, drained by mendicant (barefoot!) Franciscan friars and which became the site of one of the city’s important markets.

Despite a squally forecast the rain stayed away for the whole expedition, and (as always) we rewarded our studies with lunch at our final stopping point – appropriately the Marktplatz in the centre of the Old Town.