The Rhine and Basel
27 April 2021
The source of the Rhine is in the Gotthard massif in the Swiss Alps (Lake Toma (Lai da Tuma or Lag da Toma in the Romansh language at an altitude of 2 344 meters).
From there, the river begins its 1250 kilometre journey to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The river is navigable from Basel to the North Sea (850 kilometres).
The river has an important industrial function, is a traffic artery and is indispensable for the supply of drinking water. Since 1815 the Rhine has also been a border between countries.
Basel is located at the point where the High Rhine (Hochrhein) bends to the north and becomes the Upper Rhine (Oberrhein). The river has always determined the life of the city. It was a line of defence for the Romans (the Limes, the border of the Roman Empire) and before that for the Celts (the murus gallus on the Münster Hill).
In the fifth century, the Bishop of Augusta Raurica (Augst, Canton Basel-Landschaft) settled on the hill on the Rhine.
In Roman times the river was already an important shipping route. In the Middle Ages merchants, pilgrims, diplomats, kings, emperors, bishops and other dignitaries preferred to travel by boat. The journey by land was more dangerous and less comfortable.
Logs floated like wooden rafts to Basel or further downstream and stone building materials were transported by water.
For centuries the Rhine was able to continue its course without human intervention from its source via the impressive waterfall (Rheinfall) near Neuhausen (Schaffhausen) and through the city of Basel.
The river was an economic blessing but sometimes also a great danger due to flooding.
However, canalisation, locks and other human interventions have changed the character of the Rhine since the 19th century.
The Rhine that flows through Basel nowadays is the same Rhine of two thousand years ago. Only its function and perception have changed. Its function for shipping and industry has remained. However, professional fishing has almost disappeared, as well as the salmon.
The “Lachs 2020” project aims to reintroduce salmon, among other things by constructing fish ladders, which have now been created in Basel.
Today, the river is also a place for leisure activities, sports (swimming, rowing, canoeing, boating), walks along the banks and, above all, the river is no longer a danger.
If the shrinking of the glaciers continues at the present rate the Rhine may even become a medium-sized stream in 100 years.