Prior to the official walking tour of Basel provided by our Viking River Cruise, we explored a bit on our own, heading first to one of the most well-known landmarks, the Spalentor, or Gate of Spalen. Completed in 1473-74, the Spalentor is one of three remaining medieval city gates in Basel and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful city gates in Switzerland.
Above the opening in the gate, we first spied the symbol which we would later learn was the staff of Basel, used by the Bishops of Basel as early as 1072. It continues today as the symbol of Basel and it appeared on many buildings. See how many you can spot in my photos.
From the gate, we wandered a bit, just taking in the sights of Old Town.
Quite by accident, we discovered the Haafelimaart (Autumn Fair) which occurs every year featuring tasty foods, handmade products, and carnival rides. In spite of the chilly overcast day, plenty of people were out and about.
We returned to the ship, settled into our cabins, ate lunch, then filed onto buses to return to Old Town for our official walking tour.
The bus delivered us to the other end of Old Town from where we had explored in the morning to begin our tour. We dutifully followed our guide and listened on our Whisper-Vox headphones as he pointed out places of interest. I would love to have had time for the Chagall exhibit at the Art Museum but had to satisfy myself with a photo of the banner on the building.
Basler Munster (Basel Cathedral) with its twin spires dominates the skyline and attracts the eye with its red sandstone exterior and colorful tile roof. Built and rebuilt from 1019-1500 as a Catholic cathedral, the Munster became home to the Swiss Reformed Church in 1529. Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, was entombed here upon his death in 1536. My favorite quote from him, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
The Pfalz, a terrace located behind the cathedral is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its impressive views overlooking the Rhine. We spent a little time here because one of our group wandered off and we had to wait for him to be found. It turned out he’d returned to the ship.
Our knowledgeable guide led us a short distance past several museums to a Basilisk Fountain where he informed us about the heraldic animal of the city, the basilisk. You may be familiar with this mythical creature from the Harry Potter books but in case you aren’t, the basilisk is a crested serpent, half rooster, half snake, which can kill with a single glance. The basilisk rests on the top of the monument below but notice another Basel staff beneath it.
A little farther on, we arrived at the Rathaus or City Hall in the Marktplatz. I’ve probably said this before but I find the German term Rathaus especially humorous for the place of government. Hearing that 70% of eligible Swiss voters exercise their franchise makes me think, however, the Swiss are good citizens who have confidence in their government. This particular Rathaus was built after the great earthquake in 1356 but it has been restored and added onto through the years.
The frescoes and sculptures that adorn the exterior of the building and the courtyard are splendid and awe-inspiring and we took our time enjoying them. I would love to have seen the interior, especially the Council Chamber and, although the building is open to the public, it’s closed on weekends. Sadly, we were there on Sunday.
After our visit to the Rathaus, we were given time to explore the Marktplatz but on Sunday most of the shops were closed. We elected to leave the group and find our way back to the ship on foot. As we made our way, we encountered another of the remaining city gates, St. Johanns-Tor, built shortly after the great earthquake. Today it houses the Police Department.
We enjoyed our time in Basel and I’m sure there are many more sights worthy of exploration but we were setting sail at 8:00 pm for our next port on the Rhine River, Breisach, Germany.
Based on events from October 2017.