• History

The History

Basel’s history is turbulent: Celts, romans, alemanns. Diocesan city, first bridge across the Rhine, busy trade. University, trade fair privilege, reformation. Separation from Basel-Landschaft, economic growth and being spared from the wars. These are just a few of many important stages. (copyright : www.basel.com)

Celts, Romans, Alemanns

In about the year 500 BC the Celts settled in the area which is now Basel. In the year 44 BC Munatius Plancus founded a Roman fort at Augusta Raurica, 10 km further up the Rhine. After 450 AD, following the destruction of Augusta Raurica at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was settled by the Alemanns. The earliest documented use of the name ‘Basilea’ dates from the year 374 AD. The settlement gradually grew in importance and became a small town.

Diocesan city, building the Minster, first city wall, first bridge

In the year 740 Basel was made a diocesan city, a development which further increased its growing importance. This was underlined in the year 1019, when the Emperor Henry II began building the Minster (for which he was later named the city’s patron saint). The construction of the first city wall was another major project. In 1225, the first bridge across the river Rhine was built.

Plague, Earthquake, Council, University, trade fair privilege

The year 1348 marked the start of a very difficult period for Basel: half the population perished in the plague, and in 1356 a massive earthquake destroyed large parts of the city. However, the city was successfully rebuilt, and in 1392 the Bishop acquired Kleinbasel on the other side of the Rhine. During

the Council of Basel in the years 1431–49, the city became the spiritual centre of the Christian Church. In 1460 Pope Pius II established the first university north of the Alps in Basel. It attracted humanists such as Erasmus von Rotterdam to Basel. Bookprinting was introduced. In 1471 Emperor Friedrich III granted the city the right to hold fairs – a very important development for the future of Basel.

Joining the Swiss Confederation, Reformation

In 1501 Basel – together with Schaffhausen – joined the Swiss Confederation. The construction of the Rathaus (Town Hall), the present seat of government and parliament, began. In 1529 the Reformation was brought to Basel by Oekolompad among others; the Bishop was forced to leave the city, and the city guilds assumed power.

Commercial and industrial city

Around 1560, Italian and French religious refugees won increasing influence over commercial activities in general and the silk trade in particular. In 1670, the silk ribbon industry started to grow. From 1685 onwards, Protestants migrated to Basel from all over Europe, bringing new manufacturing skills and methods with them. In 1758, the trading house Johann Rudolf Geigy was founded; shortly afterwards, production of the first dyes began.

Peace of Basel, Napoleon, separation from Basel-Landschaft

In 1795, the Peace of Basel marked the end of the drawn-out war between France, Spain and Prussia. Shortly afterwards, Napoleon occupied Switzerland and created a centralised Swiss state. New civil rights were introduced. 1803, however, saw a return to the old confederation of states. Nevertheless, certain territories retained their new-found autonomy. In the year 1833, Basel-Landschaft successfully defended itself against the dominance of Basel-Stadt, and constituted itself as an independent canton; Basel thereby lost its outlying territories and two thirds of its assets. In 1844 the first railway in Switzerland was built in Basel. Basel experienced the fastest growth in its history. In 1849 the first museums were built at Augustinergasse.

Economic growth, spared from the war

Switzerland was spared the horrors of the First World War – despite its geographical proximity to a number of major battlegrounds. During the Second World War (1939–1945) the country was entirely surrounded by fascist states. Nevertheless, it managed to avoid being attacked. Cross-border relations, however, did not thrive during this period. In spite of this, not long after the end of the War, in 1953, the world’s first binational airport, Basel-Mulhouse, was opened. Cross-border co-operation has been championed since 1963 by the organisation ‘Regio Basiliensis’.

Modern period

In 1992 a proposal to join the European Economic Area (EEA) was rejected at the national level by both the electorate and the cantons; however, Basel-Stadt voted in favour, together with the French speaking part of Switzerland. In the 1990es Basel saw two major corporate mergers: Sandoz and Ciba merged to become Novartis, one of the largest pharmaceutical corporations in the world. And in the financial sector, the Swiss Bank Corporation and the Union Bank of Switzerland merged to form UBS, one of the world’s largest banks. Corporate spin-offs have been encouraged, and the first biotechnology enterprises sprung up in the region.

Name, coat of arms, ‘Baselstab’

The origin of the name Basel remains a matter of contention. Some philologists cite Ancient Greek, where ‘basileus’ means ‘king’; others point to the Celts, who frequently used the linguistic root ‘basil’ for place names and personal names. However, the earliest documented citation of Basilia, the city at the bend in the Rhine, dates from the year 374. Basel’s heraldic animal, the basilisk, is certainly of more recent origin. It is a mythical creature, part cockerel and part dragon, which appeared for the first time around the year 450. The cantonal symbol, the ‘Baslerstab’ derives from the bishops’ crook used as a symbol of bishops’ authority since the year 1000, and found its present form in the 14th century. Like all bishops’ crooks, it symbolises Moses’ crook.