Basel or Basle is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany.
During the days of the Roman Empire, the settlement of Augusta Raurica was founded 10 or 20 kilometres upstream of present Basel, and a castle was built on the hill overlooking the river where the Basel Münster now stands. But even older Celtic settlements (including a vitrified fort) have been discovered recently in the area predating the Roman castle.
The town of Basel was called Basilea or Basilia in Latin (from Ancient Greek Basileia, Βασιλεια meaning kingship) and this name is documented from 374 AD.
In 1019 the construction of the cathedral of Basel (known locally as the Münster) began under German Emperor Heinrich II. In 1225–1226 the Bridge over the Rhine was constructed by Bishop Heinrich von Thun and lesser Basel (Kleinbasel) founded as a bridgehead to protect the bridge. The bridge was largely funded by Basel's Jewish community which had settled there a century earlier. For many centuries to come Basel possessed the only permanent bridge over the river "between Lake Constance and the sea".
The Bishop also allowed the furriers to found a guild in 1226. Eventually about 15 guilds were established in the 13th century. They increased the town's, and hence the bishop's, reputation, influence, and income from the taxes and duties on goods in Basel's expanding market.
In 1347 the plague came to Europe but did not reach Basel until June 1349. The guilds, asserting that the Jews were responsible—several had been tortured and confessed—demanded they be executed, which the Council did in January 1349, except for a few who escaped to Alsace. The council then forbade Jews in Basel for 200 years, except that their money was helpful in rebuilding after the Basel earthquake of 1356 which destroyed much of the city along with a number of castles in the vicinity. The city offered courts to nobles as an alternative to rebuilding their castles, in exchange for the nobles' military protection of the city.
The Schwabe publishing house was founded in 1488 by Johannes Petri and is the oldest publishing house still in business. Johann Froben also operated his printing house in Basel and was notable for publishing works by Erasmus. In 1495, Basel was incorporated in the Upper Rhenish Imperial Circle; the Bishop of Basel was added to the Bench of the Ecclesiastical Princes. In 1500 the construction of the Basel Münster was finished. In 1521 so was the bishop. The Council, under the supremacy of the guilds, explained that henceforth they would only give allegiance to the Swiss Confederation, to whom the bishop appealed but in vain.
In 1503 the new bishop Christoph von Utenheim refused to give Basel a new constitution whereupon, to show its power, the city began the construction of a new city hall.
In 1529 the city became Protestant under Oecolampadius and the bishop's seat was moved to Porrentury. The bishop's crook was however retained as the city's coat of arms.
The first edition of Christianae religionis institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin's great exposition of Calvinist doctrine) was published at Basel in March 1536.
In 1544, Johann von Brugge a rich Dutch Protestant refugee was given citizenship and lived respectfully until his death in 1556 then buried with honors. His body was exhumed and burnt at the stake in 1559 after it was discovered that he was the Anabaptist David Joris.
There are indications Joachim Meyer, author of the influential 16th century martial arts text Kunst des Fechten ("The Art of Fencing") came from Basel. In 1662 the Amerbaschsches Kabinett was established in Basel as the first public museum of art. Its collection became the core of the later Basel Museum of Art.
In 1792 the Republic of Rauracia, a revolutionary French client republic, was created. It lasted until 1793. After three years of political agitation and a short civil war in 1833 the disadvantaged countryside seceded from the Canton of Basel, forming the half canton of Basel-Landschaft.
Basel's "shopping mile" goes from Clarastrasse (Claraplatz) to Marktplatz and up Freiestrasse and Gerbergasse to Heuwaage and Bankverein. Much of the shopping here is in specialty stores and luxury boutiques, with a few department stores. Like other large Swiss cities, Basel has many jewelers, horologers (watches), and chocolatiers. Try to veer off the beaten track and check out Schneidergasse (off of Marktplatz), the hilly Spalenberg and adjacent little alleyways such as Heuberg, Nadelberg, which are not only lovely to walk through but where you are likely to find more original shops, selling artisan jewelry, antiques, specialty items, vintage clothing, books, art, etc. Retailers are generally cheery and very competent, polite and helpful.
Prices of name brands are generally uniform across the city - and across the country. Discounting has only recently made inroads in Basel. Expect to pay the same price anywhere for a Swiss Army knife or a watch.
Most stores close promptly at 6:30PM Mo-Fr, except for Thursday when many stores are open until 8 or 9PM. Stores close by 5PM on Saturday and nothing is open on Sunday. Exceptions are the stores in and around the train station, the supermarket Coop Pronto at Barfüsserplatz and a number of small family businesses in residential areas. VAT is included in prices, and there is generally no haggling. Some luxury stores offer tax-free shopping for tourists.
- The Basel Minster is one of the main landmarks and tourist attractions of the Swiss city of Basel. It adds definition to the cityscape with its red sandstone architecture and coloured roof tiles, its two slim towers and the cross-shaped intersection of the main roof. The Münster is listed as a heritage site of national significance. Originally a Catholic cathedral and today a reformed Protestant church, it was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles. The late Romanesque building was destroyed by the 1356 Basel earthquake and rebuilt by Johannes Gmünd, who was at the same time employed for building the Freiburg Münster. This building was extended from 1421 by Ulrich von Ensingen, architect of the cathedral towers at Ulm and Strasbourg. The southern tower was completed in 1500 by Hans von Nußdorf.
- The Basel Town Hall locally known as Roothuus is a five hundred years old building dominating the Marktplatz in Basel. The Town Hall houses the meetings of the Cantonal Parliament as well as the Cantonal Government of the canton of Basel-Stadt. The Great Council Chamber at one time featured a series of frescoes painted in 1522 by Hans Holbein the Younger however these have mostly been lost. Fragments of the work as well as some of the initial drawings are kept in the Kunstmuseum.
- The Basel Historical Museum, opened in 1894, is one of the largest and most important museums of its kind in Switzerland, and a heritage site of national significance. The museum is divided into four sections (buildings), three of which are within the city of Basel. These are Barfüsserkirche, Haus zum Kirschgarten and the Musikmuseum. The fourth section, the Coach and Carriage Museum lies slightly outside Basel, in the neighbouring town of Münchenstein.
- The Gates to the Walled City. A (third) ring of fortifications around the whole old city was constructed after the great earthquake of 1356, to provide security for the then roughly 20,000 inhabitants of Basel. A number of these gates can still be seen at the perimeter of what used to be the medieval city
- Zoo Basel is, with over 1.7 million visitors per year, the most visited tourist attraction in Basel and the second most visited tourist attraction in Switzerland. Established in 1874, Zoo Basel is the oldest zoo in Switzerland and, by number of animals, the largest. Through its history, Zoo Basel has had several breeding successes, such as the first worldwide Indian rhinoceros birth and Greater flamingo hatch in a zoo. These and other achievements led Forbes Travel to rank Zoo Basel as one of the fifteen best zoos in the world in 2008. Despite its international fame, Basel's population remains attached to Zoo Basel, which is entirely surrounded by the city of Basel. Evidence of this is the millions of donations money each year, as well as Zoo Basel's unofficial name: locals lovingly call "their" zoo "Zolli" by which is it known throughout Basel and most of Switzerland.