Swiss Cities to discover, experience, and enjoy
The Rhine splits Basel, one of Switzerland's largest cities, into two sections: Greater Basel and Lesser Basel. Basel is the home of Switzerland's oldest university. The city's rich medieval history includes such luminaries as the humanist Erasmus von Rotterdam, the book printer Froben, and the famed doctor of yore Paracelsus. It is also home of the world's oldest public art collection, dating back to 1661. Basel is Switzerland's only port. Basel is a market town: documents show that such gatherings have been held here from 1471 onwards. Today, this rich tradition continues in the form of the congress and trade fair business.
Basel can boast an intact medieval city center: a splendid Town Hall of brilliant red sandstone with intricate murals dating back to the 15th century is the perfect backdrop for a daily market where nearby farmers come and sell their produce. Another architectural gem from that era is the Basel Cathedral, a symphony in pale red sandstone topped with Gothic towers. The historical center is a perfect counterpiece to the works of contemporary architects such as Mario Botta, Herzog & de Meuron or Richard Meier. Public art is of the highest order, with works ranging from Jean Tinguely's playful Theatre Fountain to Jonathan Borofski's perpetually Hammering Man.
Basel well-deserves its reputation as an art and cultural center. It has more than thirty museums, many of world-renown, and numerous art galleries. The Basel Theatre is a well-known performing arts center with its own opera, dance troupe and a season full of plays, both contemporary and traditional. Many industrial lofts have been redeveloped as cultural centers, with a lively concert and club scene. And of course, Basel's Music Academy is one of the world's foremost learning centers, specializing in baroque music. A recent addition to the theatre scene is the Basel Musical Theatre, where American-style musicals are presented.
Among some of the notable museums are the Jean Tinguely Museum and the Beyeler Foundation. The Jean Tinguely Museum houses works by this master of kinetic sculpture. Mario Botta, the well-known Swiss architect, designed the museum on the banks of the Rhine River. The Beyeler Foundation contains 175 works of exceptional value, juxtaposing Oceanic art with classical contemporary art. Again, the building is as much of a work of art as the contents. Built by Renzo Piano, it was widely heralded by the international press and has set new standards in museum building.
The Fine Art Museum is one of Basel's three-star attractions, with a collection of Holbeins second only to that of the Queen of England. Furthermore, the museum holds works by von Cranach, Gruenewald and Konrad Witz, as well as the dramatic 19th century paintings by Arnold Boecklin. The 20th century art section focuses on Cubism, Expressionism and Pop Art.
The Basel Museum of Contemporary Art is dedicated to works that were produced after 1960. It contains works by such notables as Frank Stella and Joseph Beuys. Further museums are the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Antiquities, Cartoon Museum and many more. Especially younger guests are partial to the Museum of Natural History with its dioramas, the Toy Museum, the Museum for Navigational Arts or the Dollhouse Museum. And of course, young and old love the century-old Basel Zoo.
Several annual events prove that good things have staying power. The Autumn Fair dates back to 1471, when Emperor Frederick III gave the city permission to hold an annual market. The oldest part of the market is the "Haefelimaert", a market dedicated entirely to crockery. But there are also antique books, rides and many culinary specialties, such as the nut-filled candy only available during this period called "Maessmogge". The entire city takes on a festive air as the Autumn Fair takes place in many locations all over town. This long history of gatherings has made Basel an ideal convention center. The city hosts trade fairs dedicated to watches and jewelry, New Technology, gastronomy and contemporary art.
One of the most celebrated events is Carnival, or Fasnacht, as it is called. Fasnacht is preceded by the Vogel Gryff , an event which has the icons of the three Lesser Basel Societies dancing on the bridge that connects this part of town to Greater Basel. The dancing icons are the Griffin (Vogel Gryff), the Lion, and the Wild Man. On the Greater Basel side, a huge mask of a king sticking his tongue out at Lesser Basel commemorates a 16th century dispute between Greater Basel and Lesser Basel, which had pledged allegiance to Austria.
Soon thereafter, it is time for Carnival. It begins on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. All lights are switched off and at 4 am sharp, fifes and drums pierce the air and candle-lit lanterns are trundled through the narrow medieval streets, making this a magical experience. The celebrations go on for three days, often non-stop, with parades of masked societies called cliques trooping down the main arteries of the city while revelers let down their hair in bars and restaurants as they listen to comical verses commemorating the past year's happenings.
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