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Basel (bäˈzəl) or Basle (bäl), Fr. Bâle, canton, N Switzerland, bordering on France and Germany. It is bounded in the N by the Rhine River (which becomes navigable in the canton) and in the S by the Jura Mts. Although it has industries, Basel is mainly a region of fertile fields, meadows, orchards, and forests. Its inhabitants are German-speaking and Protestant. The canton has been divided since 1833 into two independent half cantons— Basel-Land, 165 sq mi (427 sq km), generally comprising the rural districts, with its capital at Liestal, and Basel-Stadt, 14 sq mi (36 sq km), virtually coextensive with the city of Basel and its suburbs.

Divided by the Rhine, the city consists of Greater Basel (Grossbasel, left bank), which is the commercial and intellectual center, and Lesser Basel (Kleinbasel), where industry is concentrated. Basel is a major economic center and the chief rail junction and river port of Switzerland. It is also a financial center. The city is the seat of the Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical industry and of the Swiss Industries Fair; it also has an important publishing industry. Other products are machinery and silk textiles.

Founded by the Romans (and named Basilia), it became an episcopal see in the 7th cent. It passed successively to the Alemanni, the Franks, and to Transjurane Burgundy. In the 11th cent. it became a free imperial city and the residence of prince-bishops. The celebrated Council of Basel (see separate article) met there in the mid-15th cent. Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501 and accepted the Reformation in 1523. Although expelled from the city, the bishops continued to rule the bishopric of Basel (including Porrentruy and Delémont, which in 1815 became part of Bern canton and in 1979 part of Jura canton). The oppressive rule of the city's patriciate over the rest of the canton led to revolts (1831–33) and the eventual split into two cantons.

One of the oldest intellectual centers of Europe, Basel has through its university (founded 1460 by Pius II) attracted leading artists, scholars, and teachers. It was the residence of Froben, Erasmus, Holbein the Younger, Calvin, Nietzsche, and the Bernoulli family. Jacob Burckhardt and Leonhard Euler were born there. Among the city's noted structures are the cathedral (consecrated 1019), in which Erasmus is buried; the medieval gates; several guild houses; the 16th-century town hall; the Kunstmuseum with a valuable collection of Holbein's works; and the Fondation Beyeler, a modern-art museum designed by Renzo Piano. The city has many other art galleries and museums. Basel's St. Johann neighborhood is the site of a number of buildings by such outstanding contemporary architects as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Yoshio Taniguchi.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(German; French, Bâle), a city in the extreme northern part of Switzerland near the convergence of the Swiss, French, and German borders. Administratively it is equivalent to a demicanton. It is located in a narrow valley of the Rhine River, where it flows out onto the plain on which three mountain massifs, those of the Jura, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), and Vosges, come together. It is the second largest city in the country. Population, in 1968, was 215,600; metropolitan area, including suburbs, 358,700.

Historical sketch. The site is first referred to as the Roman fortification of Basilia in 374. By the 13 th century Basel had become a significant commercial and trade center. Basel, whose inhabitants carried on a struggle against the bishop, the seignior of the city, beginning in the 12th century, won the status of an imperial city in the 14th century. The city gradually subjected the surrounding rural areas to its authority and became the center of an extensive territory, the canton of Basel. In 1501, Basel joined the Swiss Confederation. In the late 15th and the 16th centuries Basel became one of Europe’s centers for trade, commerce, and credit and loan operations, as well as for book publishing (J. Froben) and humanism (Erasmus of Rotterdam). In 1525 a peasant movement, which was supported by the urban poor, developed in the Basel area. It was suppressed by 1526. In 1529 the Reformation was introduced in Basel. The oligarchical patrician regime in Basel in the 17th and 18th centuries provoked numerous peasant and urban uprisings (1653, 1789, and so on). In 1833 the population of the rural part of the canton, through an armed uprising, won the establishment of an independent demicanton by the name of Basel Land. In this struggle the city, Basel Stadt, had the support of the reactionary Sarnen League. Basel has been the site of the signing of many international treaties. In 1869 the fourth congress of the First International was held here, and in 1912, a congress of the Second International.

Economy. Basel is a major financial and trade center of international significance. It is a major transport center with a port on the Rhine, where the river begins to be navigable, and a port on the Rhine-Rhone Canal. As much as 40 percent of all the country’s imports and exports pass through Basel, primarily through the port. Many Swiss banks are located in Basel, along with the Bank for International Settlements. Annual industrial fairs are held there. As far as industry is concerned, Basel ranks below Zurich, but it does have considerable significance as a center for the chemical, silk, pharmaceutical, machine-building, and electrical-engineering industries, as well as for book publishing and the book trade.

Architecture. The Rhine separates Basel into two parts: Great Basel on the raised left bank of the river, where the city’s historic center is located, along with the main architectural monuments, and where the typical features of the age-old trade and commercial town are preserved; and Little Basel (New City) on the low-lying right bank, where industrial establishments are located. The two parts of the city are connected by five bridges. North of Basel is the harbor of Hiiningen with its port facilities. Among the architectural monuments of Basel are the Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, which was begun in 1019, with work continuing into the 15th century, and the Rathaus with frescoes of the 16th century. In 1962–63 a new complex was built to house the School of Arts and Crafts (architect H. Baur) with ornamental sculpture by J. Arp and others. In Basel’s public art gallery there is a fine collection of paintings by Renaissance artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger and Hans Baldung, and by impressionist painters, as well as sculpture by A. Rodin, A. Maillol, and others. It has the oldest university in the country (1460) and historical and ethnographic museums.


Wackernagel, R. Geschkhte der Stadt Basel, vols. 1–3. Basel, 1907–24.
Baer, C. H. Die Kunstdenkmäler des Kantons Basel-Stadt, vol. 1. Basel, 1932.
Reinhardt, H. Das Busier Münster. Basel, 1939.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


, Basel
1. a canton of NW Switzerland, divided into the demicantons of Basle-Landschaft and Basle-Stadt. Pops.: 263 200 and 186 900 (2002 est.). Areas: 427 sq. km (165 sq. miles) and 36 sq. km (14 sq. miles) respectively
2. a city in NW Switzerland, capital of Basle canton, on the Rhine: oldest university in Switzerland. Pop.: 165 000 (2002 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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