Basel Stories and Tips

Basel, Switzerland: Ancient and Current

Photo of Basel, Switzerland

My last day in Europe in 2011 culminated with a day trip to Basel, Switzerland, the third largest city in that little mountain country and is located at the French, German and Swiss borders. It was the only place I visited during my short visit to Switzerland, but I can say "I've been there, done that!" and got my Swiss flag for my collection to prove it.

Basel is a city that dates from Ancient Roman times, but archeologists have discovered evidence that the Celtics had lived there at one time before the Romans arrived in the area. When the Romans came to the Basel area around 374 AD, they named their newest settlement Augusta Raurica and they had built a castle where the Basel Munster now stands. Basel's strategic location along the Rhine River made the city an important shipping mecca along with a place where merchants could gather and several guilds were established.

In the 12th Century, many Jewish people settled in Basel and funded the money for the only bridge over the Rhine River. The Jewish people of Basel had a good life until the 14th Century plague that swept most of Europe for the previous two years hit Basel in June 1349. As it happened in other European cities, the Jews of Basel were blamed for bringing on the plague and several of them were arrested, tortured, and eventually executed by the guilds of Basel.

Basel has always been a city of neutrality but in 1499, it had been plundered during the Swabian War. The Treaty of Basel ended this war and gave the city of Basel exemption from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian's taxes and splitting them from the Holy Roman Emperor. Basel became part of the Swiss Confederation as its 11th canton in 1501 and was the only canton asked to join instead of being forced into the confederation. Reformation hit Basel in 1529, and Basel then became a Protestant state and the Munster went from becoming a Catholic church to a Protestant one.

I enjoyed my short visit to Basel and enjoyed the scenery and walking the narrow cobblestone roads that go through the city. It has not lost a lot of its old-world charm. But it was an expensive city to visit to me as is most of Switzerland. I was searching for a place for lunch where I could experience some Swiss cuisine but many of the restaurants who had menus outside their establishments cost a mini fortune. So I was content to get a open-faced mozzarella cheese, basil and tomato sandwich at one of the little bakeries in downtown Basel and enjoyed a little picnic on the stairs leading up to the Basel Munster. It was a great way to people watch and enjoy the sunny warm Swiss day.

Trains are the best way to get to Basel and there are several of them that leave Freiburg and other cities nearby. Remember that Basel, Switzerland is not part of the European Union, so it's advisable to exchange your Euros or Dollars for Swiss Francs and then if you have money leftover when you leave Switzerland, you can switch back to the currency of your choice. If you are looking for a little taste of Switzerland in a short period of time like I did, Basel, Switzerland is the place to go.

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