Museum Kleines Klingental und das Glücksrad. Ausstellung Bäume in Basel. Foto/Photo: TES.

Nature and Trees in Basel

In the Middle Ages, the forest meant danger and mystery. Nobody went for a walk for pleasure. Today, on the other hand, the forest is a refuge for rest, fresh air and the experience of pure nature.

The quality of life in the city is related to its size and especially to its contact with nature and recreational areas. Residential areas are preferably located within a reasonable distance of green zones.

Bern. Photo: TES

The meaning of the tree

The exhibition shows the history of a thousand years of trees and greenery in Basel. In the different phases of urban development, the tree has had other functions, for example, decorative, city planning, private gardening, botanic purposes or religious, political or administrative meaning, for example, court proceedings under the lime tree, the liberty trees of the French Revolution of Christmas trees.

The philosophy of the Stadtgärtnerei Basel, summer 2021. Photo TES

The exhibition Bäume in Basel Das Grün im urbanen Wandel (Trees in Basel. Greenery and urban change) presents the historical development of nature and flora in the city up to the present and even looks to the future.

The relationship between wood, trees, and the city is omnipresent in the Kleines Klingental museum. The cathedral’s Romanesque wheel of fortune (das Glücksrad) is made of oak from 1220.

The (ancient) university and its botanical garden. Photo: TES.

The botanical era

At the beginning of the modern era (around 1500), the intellectual and cultural developments changed the city. Scholars and entrepreneurs with international connections promoted the transformation of Basel into a cosmopolitan city.

Even then, botany was closely linked to pharmacology, medicine and horticulture. The founding of the University of Basel in 1460 strengthened the scientific interest. This period is the basis of the city’s current chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

The art of printing and the outstanding quality of the paper produced by the many paper mills (see also:, the many (famous) publishers and the humanist, relatively tolerant city made Basel one of the leading university cities in Europe.


The city grew bigger and bigger in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Citizens created Italian Renaissance gardens, and they built the first country houses and summer residences. In this period, the tree also emerged as a means of urban development.

Baroque and Rococo

From the middle of the 18th century, the Baroque estates (e.g. Villa Merian and Wenkenhof) outside the city mark the heyday of Basel’s architectural culture. They express a new style of architecture, nature and gardens in Baroque, Rococo and English landscape styles.


Inspired by the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the French Revolution, a new relationship between the city and nature emerged towards the end of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The residential and garden culture in the late 18th and 19th centuries is characterised by the import of exotic trees and galleries. 

It is a mixture of Baroque, Rococo, the English Garden, Romanticism and Chinese and Japanese influences in stately private gardens. At the same time, hygiene problems of the ever faster-growing city caused the creation of green areas.

The garden city

Around 1900, the city’s growth and other ideas stimulated a rethinking of urban planning. The garden city concept was first applied in 1912 in Münchenstein, near Basel. It was Switzerland’s first garden city.

Basel, Rhine Promenade. Photo: TES

The Green City

Cemeteries, old monasteries and their gardens within the city ring and the demolition of ancient city walls made room for the first urban green areas. Trees were planted along the river and streets, and the Rhine bank even became a leafy promenade and still is today.

The last decades of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century are characterised by redevelopment and the changed use or refurbishment of undeveloped areas and old factory sites.

The modern city

Nowadays, parks and green spaces are often enriched with works of art and recreational structures. This development reflects an awakened environmental awareness in an urban environment. the municipal department maintains no fewer than 27,000 trees carefully.

The motto: a healthy tree means a healthy city.

(Source and further information:

The Münsterplatz