Basel, Barfusserplatz with view of Leonard Church. Photo RES

The Crossroads of Basel

The city of Basel represents and confirms at a micro level the identity of Switzerland.  This crossroads of rivers, roads, and mountain passes connect Italy, Germany, France and Austria, Northern and Southern, Western and Eastern Europe.

The Celtic tribe of the Rauraci lived in the region when the Romans arrived in the first century BC. The Roman period was followed by the Burgundian Kingdom (434-534),then the Alemans, the Carolingian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and, finally, accession to the Swiss Confederation in 1501

The diocese of Basel was the (linguistic) frontier between two archbishoprics: Besançon in France, to which belonged the territory of Grossbasel, and Mainz (Mayence) in Germany, which included the diocese of Constance and Kleinbasel, on the right bank of the Rhine.

Basel hosted the Council (1431-1449), which followed after the Council of Constance (1411-1418). Basel became an agent of humanism, the publishing- and printing industry, ideas, and culture after the foundation of the university in 1460. 

The industrial, trading and humanist city hosted Erasmus (1456-1536), buried in the protestant Münster. The city also underwent the fury and rage of the reformers (Basilea reformata, 1529).

Famous artists — such as Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), scholars (Jacob Burckhardt 1818-1897), or politicians, e.g. the French socialist Jean Jàures (1859-1914) in 1912 — had their finest hour in this city.

The dynamic of economic and social change in Western Europe during the nineteenth century and the outbreak of World War I marks the dissolution of a primarily agricultural and rigidly hierarchical social order that had survived for many centuries.

Basel became an industrial town by its chemical and pharmacy industries. The city has always been committed to introduce modern architecture and to present non-European cultures (as one of the few non-colonial nations in Western Europe). The Museum of Ethnography was founded by missionaries and Swiss travellers and collectors in 1849 and was one of the first of its kind in the world.

Wealthy families, such as the Amerbach, Faesch and Fesch, were engaged in collecting arts and displaying it to the public, societies of arts and museums,  founded by private funds.

(Source: S. Eisenman, Nineteenth Century Art. A Critical History, London 2011).