Around Basel: The Cathedral of Arlesheim – harmonious Rococo

The church of Arlesheim is called “Cathedral” or, in German, “Dom”. Until some years ago, I had always wondered, why. Oh sure, the “Arlesheimer Dom” was more richly decorated than other churches around here. Moreover, it was surrounded by palaces, but why is there a Cathedral in the suburb Arlesheim, so close to Basel with its own Cathedral, the Münster?

Let us dive into history to understand why – and then let us look at this Rococo gem. 

 

Why is there a Cathedral at Arlesheim? 

Up to 1529, Basel with its Cathedral or Münster was the seat of the Basel Bishopric. Then, the city of Basel joined the reformation. The “Basler Münster” became a protestant church, and the bishop had to leave “his” city with “his” Cathedral. The bishop ended up residing in Pruntrut (Porrentruy) and his Chapter moved to Freiburg in Breisgau, some 50km north of Basel. At that time , Breisgau belonged to Austria (Vorderösterreich). However, in 1677, Louis XIV conquered Freiburg (during the winter pause in the Franco-Dutch War) and occupied it until 1698. In 1679, the bishop of Basel, Johann Konrad I von Roggenbach (1656-1693), decided to move his Chapter from Freiburg to Arlesheim, which was part of the Roman-Catholic Bishopric of Basel.

In 1660, Bishop Roggenbach marked the border in the forest above Arlesheim. This is his coat of arms.

Roggenbach marked the border of the Prince-Bishopric “against” the protestant town of Basel. 

This is border stone number 67 and above, we find another such stone, number 70. When walking in the area, I like to show the stones to my friends. 

The existence of the vineyard Schlossberg may have supported the decision to move the Chapter to Arlesheim. The church always needs wine for the worship, or – in addition – anyway.

This is the view of the vineyard Schlossberg and the ruin Birseck belonging to the mystic landscape park Ermitage.

 

The construction of the Cathedral of Arlesheim (first built in 1679-81, then reconstructed in 1759-61)

Immediately from 1679-81, Bishop Roggenbach and his Chapter built the Cathedral of Arlesheim in Baroque style. Later, from 1759 to 1761, it was reconstructed to become the elegant Rococo church that we see today. The architects were Bagnato father and son. Appiani painted the frescoes, and Pozzi created the stucco work. All were from the Ticino or near Italy (see Georg Carlen).

One of the targets of the Cathedral reconstruction was to bring more light into the nave. The artists succeeded, I believe: The frescoes and the stucco work shine solemnly in the sun.

The organ adds to the solemnity. Built by Johannes Andreas Silbermann from Strassbourg in 1761, it has been restored in 2006. 

It was Bishop Joseph Wilhelm Rinck von Baldenstein (1744-1762) who initiated the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Arlesheim in 1759. Also this bishop marked his borders. One example is this “Rinckenstein” above Ettingen (border with Solothurn).

His coat of arms appears in the cartouche topping one of the choir stalls…

… and above the entry.

 

The frescoes are dedicated to Immacculate Maria and commemorate the royal sponsors Henry II and Kunigunde 

The sponsor of the Cathedral of Basel was emperor Henry II with his wife Kunigunde. The couple decorates the wall next to the main portal. The emperor presents the model of the Cathedral of Basel, as it was built around 1000 AD.

Bishop Rinck von Baldenstein and the members of his Chapter – might have felt homesick for the Cathedral of Basel that their predecessors had to leave in 1529, when the city became protestant: The royal couple Henry II and Kunigunde appears on the altar fresco, but other than in Basel, the couple presents the new Cathedral to Mary.

The royal couple presents it to Mary of Victory that wears a white dress and a blue plaid. She places her right foot on the neck of the snake and she presents Jesus that uses his cross to pierce the head of the snake. Mary and Jesus are joining their forces to fight the snake or the Satan that stands for the evil. 

The Cathedral of Arlesheim is dedicated to Immaculate Mary, as the inscription above the choir indicates: “Divae Virgini sine labe conceptae” (to the Divine Virgin conceived without original sin).

Also the Cathedral of Basel was dedicated to Mary. She once stood on the pedestal at the main gate, but was destroyed during the iconoclasm and since then the pedestal has remained empty.

Mary is the central figure of the main fresco in the nave. She stands on a white cloud. Above her are Christ and God Father. Above them all is the Holy Spirit as a pigeon surrounded by rays of light. The divine scene is painted in soft colours. 

The continents have assembled to praise Mary, and the “real” world is painted in powerful colours. Directly under Mary is Europe, flanked by America and Africa to the left, and by Asia to the right:

  • Europe is represented as a person (Europa) that embraces and protects the Church (represented as a statue with a gloriole). Europa wears the crown of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. A varlet climbs up the stairs carrying the sceptre and the imperial orb (Reichsapfel). A light emerges from Christ, and Europa redirects it to an Italian peasant woman that asks to free her child from the original sin inherited from Adam and Eva (they stand behind the peasant woman, painted in soft colours). 
    The Satan (Lucifer) recedes from the Church and Europa pointing his torch downwards. Armed persons and the defensive wall highlight the strength of Europe.
  • To the left, the lions, the crocodile, the elephant and the dark colour of the people indicate that we are in Africa, the feather decoration of the woman in the cart might stand for America. 
  • To the right, I recognize Asia from the umbrella, from the turban of the boy in front of the trunk and from the camels that follow the parade. The stucco work integrates with the fresco, as the stucco vase seems to belong to the incense holder of the woman that might be the personification of Asia. 

The fresco in the choir shows Mary’s Ascension. She sits on clouds that are carried upwards by angels. The apostles stand around the empty tomb. “Josephus Appiani Pinxit” (Appiani has painted it) has been written on the sarcophagus. 

Also near the choir is the scene of the Annunciation, where Archangel Gabriel tells Mary (in the blue coat) that she will give birth to Jesus. 

Directly under the organ, we see Saint Cecilia. She is a martyr from Roman times and the patron of music and of the musicians. A good match with the beautiful organ which is the only Silbermann organ left in Switzerland. 

On the side walls of the choir are the scenes of the Foot Washing and… 

… of the Last Supper. 

These two frescoes may have been carried out by Appiani’s workshop (“The Cathedral Arlesheim”, p.24).

 

The stucco decoration is in harmony with the frescoes

The stucco decoration made by Pozzi is Rococo or “style rocaille”, a term that alludes to mussels (coquilles).

The stucco decoration gives airiness to the nave. 

I include some photos of the putti that carry symbols of Mary, the pure lily,…

… the ring of stars,…

… and this might be the tower of David.

 

Additional artefacts: Choir stalls, marble and Odilia

During the reconstruction of the Cathedral in 1759-61, Peter Schacherer from Rheinfelden contributed the carpenter’s work, such as the choir stalls and…

… the wooden entry door.

The small balcony is made out of marble from Italy. 

Also the columns framing the altar are made from Italian marble. 

Odilia is the patron of the blind (meaning those who cannot see “outside” nor “inside”).  The gothic statue of Odilia from 1450 has been made from limewood. 

Around 700 AD, Odilia was the abbess of the monastery Niedermünster (Odilienberg) in the Alsace. The bishop of Basel acquired Arlesheim from Niedermünster in 1239. There is a legend that tells us, Odilia hid from her father in a cave and some say, this happened in one of the caves above Arlesheim. The former parish church of Arlesheim was devoted to Odilia and the parish of Arlesheim still carries her name.

 

The Cathedral of Arlesheim is a worthy successor or “younger sister” of the Cathedral of Basel

When working at this blog, I began to understand the connections between the two Cathedrals of Arlesheim and Basel. The patrons of both Cathedrals are Henry II and his wife Kunigunde. The royal couple had originally sponsored the Cathedral of Basel around 1000 AD. On the altar in Arlesheim, the same royal couple asks Mary to now protect the new Cathedral.

Both Cathedrals have been dedicated to Mary, but in the protestant Cathedral of Basel, the statue of Mary at the main portal has been destroyed and has never been restored (the pedestal at the main gate is empty; there is still a statue of Mary in the gable). In Arlesheim, Mary is the main theme of the frescoes and the stucco decoration, and she also stands above the entry gate.

With its two towers, the main façade of the Cathedral of Arlesheim somewhat evokes the façade of the Cathedral of Basel.

Until the reformation (1529), the members of the Bishop’s Chapter lived around the Cathedral Square (Münsterplatz) in Basel.

Until the French revolution (1792), the members of the Bishop’s Chapter resided around the Cathedral Square in Arlesheim.

The two Cathedrals from different times, built for the Bishop of Basel and his Chapter, are so close: The distance between the Cathedral of Basel and the Cathedral of Arlesheim is about ten kilometers. The “older” Cathedral of Basel has been completed shortly before 1500 (originally consecrated in 1019, it had to be reconstructed after having been damaged severely by the 1356 earthquake). The “younger” Cathedral of Arlesheim is from the late 18th century. The Romanesque and Gothic style from 1000-1500 in Basel contrasts with the Rococo style from the late 18th century at Arlesheim. I like both interpretations: I like the long history that the first Cathedral of Basel (“Basler Münster”) presents. And – I like the harmoniously soft atmosphere around Mary that the Chapter and the Bishop created in their second Cathedral at Arlesheim. I conclude that the Cathedral of Arlesheim is a worthy successor or “a younger sister” to the Cathedral of Basel. I believe, the Bishop and his Chapter have done an excellent job to reinvent their Cathedral in Arlesheim.  

Two gems so close to one another!

Sources:

Cross country skiing in Goms with extreme weather conditions

As a child, I had always dreamed to be “snowed in”, when the school ski camps were about to come to an end. This would have given us some additional days free from school. But at school times, it never happened. Now, more than 50 years later, end of January 2021, I am forced to stay at Oberwald in the Goms because of too much snow. Now this dream has come true.

With a friend of mine, I have booked a few nights in the family owned Hotel Furka at Oberwald.

Snowfall has been announced. However, we are confident that we are water- and “snow”-proof. 

 

Wonderful conditions on our first day, Tuesday

On Tuesday, we arrive at Oberwald via Andermatt using the car transport through the Furka Tunnel. 

The sun shines and the air is fresh and chilly. We run from Oberwald to Niederwald. The snow conditions are beautiful and we do all the detours on the way, except the last one just before Niederwald; there are exactly 9 minutes left, until the train leaves at Niederwald. We rush to the train station and we make it on the train back to Oberwald.

At the hotel, we enjoy an excellent glass of Heida (local wine from the canton, related with Traminer) and a delicious meal. 

 

Snow fall has started and cross country runs are filling up with snow on Wednesday

An area of deep pressures approaches England to bring precipitation and, in the mountains, heavy snowfall. 

This is the SRF METEO weather map of Thursday. The snow starts falling on Wednesday. We run down to Münster, find that the tracks are filling up more and more with snow and return back to Oberwald. 

 

We wake up on Thursday with lots of snow around us, all runs are closed and the danger of avalanches is high

Taking a shower on Thursday morning, I find this view from my bathroom window.

This is the view from the breakfast room. 

The lamp indicating that we are in the Hotel Furka is buried under snow. 

The hotel manager serves our breakfast and informs us about the status of the cross country runs, snow shoe trails and walking trails: Everything closed, as the colour “red” indicates. 

About 60-80cm of fresh snow had fallen from Tuesday evening until today, Thursday morning. The danger of avalanches is 4 which means “high”. At 4, roads and railway tracks are in danger. The roads are closed and the trains have stopped working. 

Later the danger of avalanches switches to “sehr gross” (5 = very high), which is the highest level. Several avalanches went down during the day, even cutting into the unstable old snow layers.

No, we cannot get out of Oberwald. We are locked up. Fifty years ago, as a child, I had always dreamed to be “snowed in”, when the ski camps were about to end; it never happened. Now my “old” dream comes true.

Our plans for the next two days: Walk around Oberwald, take some photos and – read. 

 

Snow impressions taken in the village Oberwald

All guests of Oberwald are locked up. The main street is busy with people walking up and down. 

Snow ploughs are working hard to free the main street from the heaps of snow.

It is getting more difficult for them, where the streets are narrower.

A lorry takes snow to the Rotten and drops it into the creek.

Cars can barely be seen under the snow. 

Fortunately, my car is in the hotel garage.

The snow covering these two roofs…

… gives a very snowy perspective.

A small path has been cut out to access the barn.

The roofs have to carry much snow and more is expected.

The black crows (or choughs) congregate on the street lamp.

The access to this hotel parking can barely be seen.

Some attentive person has put this glove on to the red street marker such that the owner has a chance to find it.

Will this mailbox ever be emptied now?

The streets are being used by skaters.

The carpenter with the name “Holzwurmji” (woodworm) looks closed today.

Depositing snow is forbidden, as the red plate indicates… well, the snow ploughers only had the option to disobey the order.

The Murmeli (house with the name “little marmot”) has already worked hard to free the car and the road has been groomed in the meantime. I wonder, whether this small house can carry the weight of the snow. 

Someone has started to take the load of snow off the roof.

I return to our Hotel Furka to do some reading. 

 

Around Oberwald, the world ends soon

A short walk along the Rotten creek…

… ends after some 500m.  Danger of avalanches (Lawinen). You are not allowed to continue on foot or by car.

The cross country runs are closed – do not go beyond this point some 200m outside of Oberwald. 

The access from our hotel to the cross country runs ends in heaps of snow. 

The train station is closed; the trains are not running any more.

Only a small part of the forest behind Oberwald is open for walkers.

The fir trees are bending under the wet snow – it is close to zero degrees.

I enjoy the patterns painted by the snow.

 

In between, the sun comes out for a moment

Just for a short time, the snow fall stops and the sun comes out. The Tällistock appears behind Oberwald. 

The church of Oberwald shines in the sun.

 

On our last two days, Saturday and Sunday, we can take out our cross country skis again

On Saturday, the forest run above Oberwald has partially opened up providing a small loop of about 2 to 3 km.

After having looped seven times, I return to the hotel. At the dinner table we see that all the other guests have left today, Saturday. At 4pm the last part of the road westwards to Brig had been announced to open again, which it did. We hear reports about a severe traffic jam – bothersome. We feel happy to have stayed at Oberwald for another night. We enjoy our dinner with the local wine Johannisberg (called Sylvaner elsewhere). We finish the evening with a Vieille Apricotine. Delicious.

The next day, the Rottenloipe has been groomed again. The sun is out. Beautiful winter conditions.

We go for a run in the morning, have some take away lunch and leave with the 14:35 train through the Furka Tunnel that has opened up today as well. 3 hours later, we are back in Basel. It is raining. It almost feels like spring and the deep winter of the Goms seems to be far away. Great to have experienced that.  

Near Zürich: Altendorf and its wonderful chapel St. Johann

2020 has been a peculiar year. Instead of going to foreign countries, I travelled to the past finding my classmates of primary school. Three of them I met in Altendorf, located on the southern side of the upper lake of Zurich, in the canton of Schwyz. 

Let me tell you, what I have learnt about Altendorf and about its charming chapel Saint John. 

 

Altendorf, so far unknown to me, is worth a detour for its chapel Saint John and its restaurant Johannisburg

So far, I have not heard of Altendorf. Yes, when driving to the mountains on the highway, I have sometimes noticed the small church on the hill, and now I learn, it is named after Saint John (Kapelle St. Johann). 

With three of my class mates, I have an excellent lunch in the posh restaurant Johannisburg…  

… with  a gorgeous view of the lake of Zurich.

Well, I have to admit, today the view disappeared in the fog that sometimes lasts long around Zurich. I may have to come back on a sunny summer day to enjoy the sunset in the bar under the roof of the restaurant and then enjoy the excellent cooking of the restaurant. 

 

Altendorf is the “old village” of the noblemen of Rapperswil – its history in a nutshell

In 972, Otto II confirms that Rhaprehteswilare belongs to the monastery of Einsiedeln. In the 11th century noblemen settle in the fortification, located on the hill above Rhaprehteswilare. The fortification is called Johannisburg, and they call now themselves “Rapperswil”. 

In the 13th century the noblemen of Rapperswil decide to move to the northern side of the lake, more strategically located at the pilgrim’s path. They call the new settlement “Rapperswil”, while “old Rapperswil” becomes “Vetus Villa Rapperswile”. It keeps its fortification “Johannisburg” and now owns a church, St. Michael.

In 1350, the Habsburgians marry-in to the family of Rapperswil. They perform an attack in Zurich (Zürcher Mordnacht). As a revenge, the people from Zurich destroy both old and new Rapperswil. The fortification of old Rapperswil will not be reconstructed. 

In 1405, the canton Appenzell conquers old Rapperswil. It is later transferred to the canton of Schwyz and today belongs to Schwyz.

In the 15th century the village “old Rapperswil” is known under the name of “to the old village” or “zu dem alten dorfe” which later becomes “Altendorf”.

The coat of arms, a rose, reminds of the noblemen of Rapperswil that once were based here.

 

The chapel St. Johann – the history

The chapel St. Johann was built at the location of the fortification that had been destroyed by Zürich. The choir forms 7/8th of a circle and stands on the foundation of a former tower. The hill hides more walls of the former fortification.  

1370/1380: The round choir with the gothic window at the east wall is being built. The northern window has a rounded arch.

End 15th century: The nave (1476) and the tower (1483) are attached to the round choir (the years are marked at the doors to the chapel and to the tower). The floor of the nave slants by a meter due to the location on the hill. In 1476, the chapel is certified in official documents.

 

Gothic altars in the church – gems from the beginning of the 16th century

The altars in the church are gems from the early 16th century. 

Behind the entrance to the round choir is the main altar. It is from the same workshop as the altar to the left, while the altar to the right is from a different workshop. Above the entrance to the choir are three portraits.

The themes of the main altar in the choir are Maria with Jesus (in the middle) and two saint Johns, Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. Both might be the patrons of the chapel with the name “Saint John”. John the Baptist (with the Agnus Dei or Holy Lamb) flanks Maria to her left. The left panel shows his decapitation and his head is above Maria. John the Evangelist stands to the right of Maria, and the panel illustrates him writing the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos. Above are two neo-Gothic figures, Saint George (left) and Archangel Michael (right). Below, in the predella is Notburga von Bühl with her nine children, all born on one day. 

In the nave, the left altar is dedicated to Saint Vitus (a martyr from Sicily who died around 300). However, Vitus only appears at the bottom in the predella, suffering his martyrium. In the middle are the virgin (Maria) with child and Saint Anne (the mother of Maria). They are surrounded by various saints: To their left is Bartholomew (with his knife) and to their right Verena (with a jar). On the left panel are Leonhard (with a chain, patron of the prisoners) and Nicholas (with the bishop’s crook). On the right panel are Oswald (with the cup and the raven) and Laurentius (with the grill).  Above this congregation of saints stands Antonius Eremita of Egypt (around 300).

The right hand altar in the nave is dedicated to Saint Wolfgang. He stands in the middle of the altar. He was bishop of Regensburg (972-994), and I am astonished to see him here. But then I learn that, for some time, he lived nearby in the monastery of Einsiedeln, as a monk. Wolfgang is surrounded by various saints: Petrus (left, with key), Andreas (right, with cross), Catherine and a bishop (left panel, Catherine with the palm leaf), Margarita and Antonius Eremita (right panel). Below in the predella, Apollonia is suffering her martyrium. Above all is the crucifixion group with Maria, Magdalena and the apostle John. 

The portraits above the entrance to the choir show Saint John the Baptist (with the Holy Lamb) to the left, Antonius Eremita in the middle and Quirin von Neuss to the right. 

These three saints are asked for help during pandemic times, I read in Jöger’s brochure.

Saint John the Baptist is said to cure from bad luck and illness.

I have met Antonius Eremita at the impressive Isenheim Altarpiece of Colmar, where he resists the temptations by the demons, and these demons show signs of ergotism. The hospital brothers of Saint Anthony cured people suffering from ergotism. Ergotism was called the “Antonius fire” and it was deemed to be an epidemic.

Quirin von Neuss was decapitated in Rome in the 2nd century. After having converted to Christianism, he performed miracles and is invoked in case of various diseases, among them the pest. His relics are at Neuss in Germany. 

The right persons are assembled here, as we encounter our pandemic of the 21st century. I intensely look at the portraits and hope – it was November then – that we will be able to cut the number of corona cases down by December. Now, in December, the numbers are still high. I look at these saints again – now on the photo – and wish that the upcoming vaccines will be handled efficiently such that we will start to come out of this pandemic by the middle of this year. 

 

Sources:
Albert Jöger, «Altendorf SZ, Pfarrkirche und Kapellen», Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte, Bern 1983 
http://www.eichinger.ch/eichifamilyhom/Reisen/Jakobsweg/Appenzellerweg/Kapelle_StJohann.htm

 

 

Around Basel: The Rheintalflexur – some background information and observations

Let me now follow up on the Rheintalflexur or “Rhine Valley flexure”, reading more about it and observing it in nature.

Let us do so after having thought about the earthquake of 1356 and the emergence of the Rhine Rift Valley (Rheintalgraben).

 

Gathering information about the geology of the Rheintalflexur 

In the lecture notes provided by the Basel university, I found this geological cross section of the Rheintalflexur from the Wartenberg (via Muttenz) to the Bruderholz. The sediments bent are shown here, and they flexed, when the crystalline basement cracked down.

The Rheintalflexur is rather exotic in the Rhine Rift Valley. At the flexure, the fractures are about 1000m deep, whereby farther north the rift slid down up to 4000m. While extension had caused the cracking of the rift valley, compression seems to act now at the Rheintalflexur (Laubscher, 1971, p. 157). We are at the southern end of the rift valley, where it turns to the west to form the Belfort gap, and somehow the rift had to “find a way” to complete the “turning” which lead to a complex pattern of small cracks. The Tafeljura echoed that with the fractions of the Wartenberg and the Adler.

 

The “Schänzli”: Building the highway tunnel allowed to explore the “Rheintalflexur”

This often cited graph of Buxtorf illustrates, how steeply the layers bend under the Schänzli (he assumed the fault to be reverse). The tunnel of the highway T18 going south to the Birseck was built exactly here, at the Schänzli.

Source: Hans Laubscher, 1971

Below we see the cross section of the highway tunnel  “Schänzli” that «sits» on the fault line and reaches into the layers of lime stone that are almost vertical here. Stairs allow now to enter and observe the geological activity (left). 

Source: Website “Heimatkunde Muttenz

During the excavation for the tunnel, the almost vertical layers of lime (Hauptrogenstein) were temporarily uncovered (right).

Let us now go out and shoot some photos to illustrate the tracks of Rheintalflexur. 

 

The Rheintalflexur at the Birs

The concrete pier of the wooden bridge at Münchenstein crossing the river Birs sits on the Rheintalflexur. Between the two pillars, we can see, how the  sediment layers are inclined. 

Just above the bridge there is the cataract formed by the slanting sediment layers of the flexure. 

I remember that I stood here with our geography teacher more than fifty years ago and he talked about the flexure.

Before taking these photos, I looked for the flexure walking up and down along the Birs; people kept on asking me, whether I had seen the kingfisher. The kingfisher? “No”, I replied, “I look for the “Rheintalflexur””. “You look for what?” – and  then I had some long conversations. May be, one day I should also look for the kingfisher.

Beyond the Rheintalflexur the Tafeljura cracked into “pieces”, and the Wartenberg was tilted (see the geological cross section above). The tilted layers of the Wartenberg “ditch” can be seen at various places. This is a photo from the quarry above the vineyards. Or is it here, where part of the landslide broke off in 1952? 

A dog sniffs at my shoes. The lady asks me: “Do you  take a photo, before it all slides down?”. And then she continues: “The slopes are very unstable here, a gap keeps on appearing that is being closed again and again to “hide it”. We have built our house on rocks, after having consulted a geologist. At the Wartenberg, you should never build a house without consulting a geologist.” Okay, well I had never planned to build a house here, my mum had always warned me about the Wartenberg…

 

More signs of the Rheintalflexur: The quarry above Münchenstein

Above Münchenstein, in the quarry “Blinden”, the bending sediments of the Rheintalflexur are also uncovered. 

The quarry is no longer in use. It has become a romantic nature reserve, even with a picnic place (as there are lots of them around Basel, some even providing free firewood).

During my next walk on the Bruderholz, I discover the quarry across, above Münchenstein. I have never noticed it from here, though having been here hundreds of times. Yes, we notice, what we have read about and thought about before! Not only, when travelling to other countries, but also, when walking around home.

 

Looking for the”Rheintalflexur in the landscape park “Ermitage” – not really successful

The Ermitage of Arlesheim is a marvellous landscape park, first established in 1785 and reconstructed in 1811. I have blogged about it in 2015 at the occasion of the park’s 230th anniversary.

The heart of the landscape park is under the Birseck castle. This castle is a ruin, integrated into the Ermitage, as every “proper” landscape park must have a ruin. A maze of footpaths zigzags up and down the rocky slope under the castle. The wall of the so-called “carousel square” stands out at the foot of the hill. 

Some 150 million years ago, this hill was part of a riff at the shore of the former Tethys sea, long before the Rhine Rift Valley emerged (40 million years ago). Many natural caves emerged later that create an exceptional atmosphere to the park.

I could not find identify the flexure around the Ermitage. May be the rock above the “carousel square” is part of it? Erich Plattner’s “Höhlen der Ermitage” does not help either, as what he calls “geological cross section of the Ermitage” seems to be farther north (from the Predigerhof across Arlesheim to the Hinteri Ebni, p. 47).  

Not really successful. Anyway, I do love to stroll through this magnificent landscape park that hides many surprises such as the hut of the “Waldbruder” or “brother of the woods”. Now, in winter, his hut can be seen from far.

The architects of the Ermitage created their landscape park with a lot of phantasy, and I keep on discovering new details.

 

The “Rheintalflexur” at the Hornfelsen (Dinkelberg)

The Rheintalflexur can be seen above Grenzach (already in Germany) at the Hornfelsen,…  

… where in particular the “lowest” rocks are bending clearly downwards. 

Also here I have been so many times before and have never noticed the flexure. 

I would love to find a book about the geological phenomena around Basel explaining them and informing, where they can be seen in nature. A book for interested hikers such as our group of Nordic Walkers. 

 

Hans Laubscher, Das Problem von Rheintalflexur und Tafeljura, Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae, 64 (1971), Heft 1; http://doi.org/10.5169/seals-163976 

Peter Huggenberger, Lecture Notes “Jura Tektonik”, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel (Überblick (Di ) Teil 2 Tafeljura (Do ) – PDF Free Download (docplayer.org)

Erich Plattner, ” Die Höhlen der Ermitage bei Arlesheim”, Speleo Projects 2014.

Around Basel: The geology and causes for the earthquake of Basel

In my former blog, I have talked about the severe 1356 earthquake of Basel. Some 6.2 to 6.4 on the Richter scale, as Laubscher, 2006, says. We have seen the presumed destructive impact of the earthquake in the southern Rhine Rift valley, based on historical reports. 



Source: Werner Meyer, “da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2006, p. 67

Red denotes castles destroyed and not rebuilt and blue shows castles or cities strongly affected, but rebuilt. Yellow are minor destructions or none, always according to the historical reports analyzed. 

To understand more of the geological facts causing the earthquake, let us follow up on these questions:

  • How did the Rhine Rift Valley come into existence?
  • What is peculiar about the southern end of the rift valley (around Basel)?
  • So, what might be the cause for the seismic activity around Basel and for the 1356 earthquake?

 

A glance at the southern end of the Rhine Rift Valley, around Basel

Basel is located at the southern end of the Rhine Rift valley. To get a feeling for that, let us first have a glance at four photos.

(1) Looking north from the eastern end of the Blauen Chain (Eggfluh), we can see the Birseck with the Gempen Plateau to the right and the Black Forest in the background. 

(2) Now we are on the Gempen Plateau in the Tabular Jura (Tafeljura near Hofstetten) and look westwards across the Birseck and the hills of the Sundgau, up to the faint blue line of the Vosges (Vogesen), with the highest peak being the Grand Ballon (France).

(3) Here I am in Germany on the foothills of the Schwarzwald/Black Forest (Markgräflerland) and look south at Basel, with the Gempen Plateau to the left and the folded chains of the Jura in the middle background, including the Blauen to the right.

(4) The fourth photo I took from the Remel at the western end of the Blauen looking northwards across the Sundgau to the Vosges (France). Basel is at about 20km to the right (east).

Yes, Basel is located at the southern end of the Rhine Rift Valley, surrounded by hills and mountains.

 

How did the Rhine Rift Valley come into existence?

The Rhine Rift Valley emerged long before the unfolding of the Alps and the Jura unfolded. This is a simplified description. 

  1. 150 to 200 million years ago, there was the sea called Tethys that deposited sediments on the ground, on the crystalline basement.
  2. About 40 million years ago, everything was lifted up which resulted in the basement and the sediments to break apart and slide downwards several thousand meters. 
  3. The Vosges and the Black Forest emerged, and in front of them foothills (Sundgau and Markgräfler Land). The volcano “Kaiserstuhl” erupted some 15-19 Mio years ago.
  4. The sediments from the sides were eroded filling the trough and uncovering the crystalline basements of the Vosges and the Black Forest. The mountains reach about 1500m, the base of the trough, filled with the sediments, is at around 250m above sea level.  

The four stages overlapped in time.

Source: My owns drawing to grasp the verbal descriptions on https://www.regionatur.ch/Orte/Naturraeume-Flusslandschaften/Oberrheinische-Tiefebene (very much simplified)

 

What is peculiar about the southern end of the rift valley (around Basel)?

The Rhine Rift Valley ends some 20kms south of Basel. The trough formation turned left (westwards) to form the Belfort gap and to continue as the Rhône-Saône Rift Valley up to the Mediterranean. 

The Dinkelberg and the Tabular Jura (Tafeljura) belong to the Black Forest, and they are lower. When the trough formed, their sediments bent down forming the so-called “Rheintalflexur” and more such flexures arose such as the Landskronflexur.  

Source: My own rough drawing to understand the descriptions on https://www.regionatur.ch/Orte/Naturraeume-Flusslandschaften/Oberrheinische-Tiefebene (very much simplified)

Later, 10 to 2 million years ago, the Alps and the Jura Chain (Faltenjura) were unfolded, and they covered part of the “old” Tabular Jura by some 5kms. This is called “reverse faulting”.

The Alps and the Jura were unfolded, when the European plate slid under the Adriatic/African plate. This is a simplified model of the collision of the two plates.

Source: Website ETH Zurich, knowledge about earthquakes

Laubscher points out that the plate border is not a “straight line”, but it stretches along 2000km, from the Atlas mountains in Africa to the Alps; Basel lies at the northern edge of this plate border “zone”. The convergence is still going on today: The European Plate pushes from North West and the Adriatic/African Plate from South East.

 

So, what might be the cause for the seismic activity around Basel and for the 1356 earthquake?

Let us recall the controversy I came across about the reasons of the earthquake of 1356 (as stated in my former blog):

  • At high school, I understood from our teacher, the Rhine Rift Valley and in particular the “Rheintalflexur” had caused the earthquake of 1356. The Birseck is, where in Meyer’s map much of the historically reported severe damages seem to have been reported, but not all. 
  • Hans-Peter Laubscher, “Zur Geologie des Erdbebens von Basel 1356” (in Werner Meyer, “Da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2006) says that the seismic activity around Basel is probably the result of the convergence of the African and the European tectonic plates that “waked up” various fault lines around Basel. This would explain the fact that further serious damages had been reported beyond the Birseck, Blauen and Gempen.

Laubscher presents this map of the rift valley, along with the fault lines he is aware of and the pressures going on.

Source: Hans Peter Laubscher, “zur Geologie des Erdbebens von Basel 1356”, in Werner Meyer, “Da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2006

As I understand Laubscher’s explanations, some fault lines such as the Rheintalflexur have been caused by the emergence of the Rhine Rift Valley (150-200 Mio years ago), but some other fault lines are much older, from 250-280 Mio years ago; at that time another earlier rift valley emerged (so called “permo-carbon trough”, see also Huggenberger), leaving “older” disturbances such as the Mandach-Monbéliard and the Mont-Terri. Laubscher says that the (older and newer) fault lines around Basel can be reactivated under new pressures. 

The convergence of the European and the African plates is such a “newer” source of pressure (see the arrows showing the pressures executed by the plates). Still today, the plates converge at 8mm/year. Most of this convergence is currently being absorbed south of the Alps, where the seismic activity is much higher than north of the Alps. The Rhine Rift Valley fault lines and the older disturbances (such as the Mandach-Monbéliard or Mont-Terri lines) are areas of weaknesses that can react, when the tectonic plates of Africa and Europe rub against each other. Laubscher believes that this was the reason for the earthquake in 1356: The lesions around Basel reacted to the convergence of the tectonic plates (p.212). As a matter of fact, the pattern of damages reported historically pretty much follows the (older) Mandach-Monbéliard and Mont-Terri disturbances. In case the destructions reported historically are not complete and there were more destructions north of the “Meyer’s ellipse”, then the Rheintalflexur with its north-south orientation could also have made their contribution, as Laubscher points out. 

On the geological map, arrows indicate the pressures along the Mont Terri Line and the Rheintalflexur. There is convergence (double arrows facing each other) as well as some sideward pushing (single arrow). The complex pattern of pressures is due to the fact that the convergence of the European and the African plate does not act at a right angle upon these fault lines. This makes predictions about seismic activity expected around Basel difficult. 

While Laubscher says that at Basel severe earthquakes happen less often than south of the Alps, “less often” does not exclude another serious earthquake to happen again. In 660 years, the geology has not changed that much, when I think of the millions of years that count in geology. As my mum, the geologist, had rightly pointed out to me, when I was nine years old. 

Well, I am not a geologist and I may not have consulted the latest research results. I have interpreted the sources I had at hand, and the basic story with the tectonic plates and the faults activated by their rubbing against one another causing earthquakes makes sense to me.  

Due to the pandemic of this year 2020, I will continue to walk mostly around Basel in the next months. It is amazing, how much I discover so close to my home. I intend to follow up on the geological evidence of the flexures around Basel. What I also always find amazing, are all these border stones along the hiking paths and in the woods that tell us about the world history that the area around Basel was part of. Being confined at home opens the eyes for what is so near. 

 

Sources:

Around Basel: About the earthquake of Basel and its destructive impact

About 660 years ago, Basel was hit by an earthquake. With 6.2 to 6.4 on the Richter scale, it was one of the strongest earthquakes that we know of in Switzerland, perhaps even the strongest. 

 

At primary school, I first learnt about the earthquake of Basel

It was at primary school around 1960 that I first heard of the earthquake of Basel. In our “Heimatkundebuch” (book about local history and geography), we wrote down the poem that describes the year 1356 in medieval German interpreting the Roman numbers (MCCCLIIIIII).

This translates to: A ring with its thorn, three horseshoes selected , a carpenter’s ax and some jugs, at that time Basel was destroyed all over.

It was not so much the earthquake that damaged the city, but the subsequent fire, caused by open fireplaces in the houses and by burning candles in the churches (Werner Meyer: “Da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel, 2006, p. 54f). This is how I imagined the fire devastating the city, when I was about nine years old. 

Phantasy is “allowed”. See, how Wurstisen imagined the earthquake in 1580 (Meyer, p. 53). 

I remember that our teacher reassured us: “This earthquake happened centuries ago. Today nothing like that will occur again.” I returned home and told my mum about the earthquake and that she should not worry about it, as it will not happen again. My mum, being a geologist, frowned at me: “Come on, the geology here is still the same, such an earthquake might happen again, any time.” Not very reassuring for me, but my mum was right. And she did not like untrue statements. 

The earthquake made a deep impression on me. I felt with bishop Johannes who, on the way from Delsberg to Basel, visited the damaged castle of Pfeffingen and was able to find his godchild safely protected under two blocks of stone. Our teacher read the story to us and we summarized it in an essay for our “Heimatkundebuch”. This is my essay, also full of phantasy.

Was this a legend? No, there is historical evidence available. Immediately after the earthquake, the prince-bishop of Basel, Johannes Senn (1335-1365), rode from Delsberg (or perhaps from St. Ursanne) to Basel, stopping by at the severely damaged castle Pfeffingen to participate in the rescue operation of his godchild (Meyer, p.113).

Here you can see the castle of Pfeffingen above the trees in the right hand foreground. Strategically well placed above the Birseck valley, it has been rebuilt after the earthquake. Across to the right is the Gempen plateau (with the greyish cliff lines). The blue mountains in the background are the southern Black Forest. I am standing on the Eggfluh that forms the eastern edge of the Blauen Chain and I look to the north.

I want to know more about the destructive impact of the earthquake and about the underlying geology.  

 

The destructive impact of the earthquake – historical evidence

“Our Burgenmeyer” analyzed the historical reports about the earthquake of Basel and illustrated them in this map: The castles definitely destroyed appear in red. Blue denotes the castles (circle) or cities (squares) that were heavily damaged and then reconstructed, and yellow indicates castles (triangles) or cities (squares) that were not or only slightly affected. 



Source: Werner Meyer, “da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2006, p. 67

The damages reported formed an ellipse about 85kms wide, whereby the most severe damages occurred within a narrower ellipse about 45kms wide, the centre being south of Basel: In the Birseck, in the valley of the Birsig to the west and on the Gempen Plateau to the east; it is here, where the colours red (destroyed and not rebuilt) and blue (heavily damaged and reconstructed) dominate.

What might have been the reasons for the earthquake of 1356?

  • At high school, our teacher told us that the Rhine Rift Valley had caused the earthquake and that the epicentre was where the “Rheintalflexur” or “Rhine valley flexure” bends down from the Gempen into the Birseck. The Birseck is, where in Meyer’s map much of the severe damages seem to have been reported, but not all. 
  • Hans-Peter Laubscher, “Zur Geologie des Erdbebens von Basel 1356” (in Werner Meyer, “Da verfiel Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2006) says that the seismic activity around Basel is probably the result of the convergence of the African and the European tectonic plates that “wakes up” various fault lines around Basel. This would explain the fact that further severe damages occurred beyond the inner ellipse around Birseck, Blauen and Gempen, as the southern end of the Rhine Rift valley is full of disruptions.

To understand more about this controversy, I will check some geological facts in my next blog.

 

Source: Werner Meyer: “Da verfiele Basel überall”, Schwabe Verlag Basel, 2006

Around Basel: Hiking to Flüh discovering the gorgeous Chälegraabe

The area around Basel is full of secrets. 

Let us discover the Chälegrabe today. 

The Chälegrabe (5) is located south of Hofstetten. It is a gorge that deeply cuts into the slopes of the Blaueberg (also called Blauen chain or Blauenkette). 

I explored the Chälegrabe, when walking from Rodersdorf to Flüh in October 2020.

 

The Chälegrabe – why is this spectacular gorge called “Chäle”-“Grabe”?

With its name, the Chälegrabe says clearly: “I AM a “gorge” and I am telling you so twice: “Chäle” is an old word for “gorge” and “Grabe” is the current Swiss German word for “gorge”… I am the “Chälegrabe”, the “Gorge-gorge” or the “Grabe-Grabe”!” (Check ortsnamen.ch, which confirms that “Chäle” is an old word for “gorge”).

Yes, the Chälegrabe is a “Gorge-gorge”, and I confirm, it is even a gorgeous “Gorge-gorge”!   

 

Let us walk through the Chälegrabe or “Gorge-gorge”

The access to the Chälegrabe is above the car park that is much used by hikers and dog owners. Here the signpost points to the Chälegrabe.

The Chälegrabe starts as a gentle creek with wooden bridges.

Then, I am approaching the rocks of the gorge,…

… and the rocks  are getting larger and narrower.

I pass by the picnic place…

… and climb up steeply on the zigzag path.

I cross the deep canyon…

… and walk along the gangway (no other way to continue in this narrow gorge-gorge)…

… with waterfalls below.

I go back down again…

… to pick up my bicycle at the car park.

I am pleased to have discovered the  gorgeous “Gorge-gorge” Chälegrabe. How often have I looked for such gorges around the world and have not been aware of this treasure so close from home, so close to Basel.

 

P.S. With the Chälegrabe, I have now completed the series of the five secrets found on my walk from Rodersdorf to Flüh in October 2020.  

  1. Historical border stones from the years 1817, 1890 and 1951 between France and Switzerland – why from 1817? And can you see the “D” (Germany or “D”eutschland) hidden “behind” the “F” for France? 
  2. Biederthal and its castle, Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?
  3. Why does the canton of Solothurn (SO) “own” an exclave within Basel (BL)? What can the Burg Rotberg tell us about this?
  4. Why did the Romans dig a cart road (“Karrweg”) into the rocks to get from Flüh to Hofstetten – avoiding the valley? 
  5. The Chälegrabe above Hofstetten – why is this spectacular gorge called “Chäle”-Grabe”?

Secrets #1/#2 to #3/#4 are covered in two former blogs.

Around Basel: Historical secrets on the hike from Rodersdorf to Flüh (cted)

The area around Basel is full of secrets.  

Did you know that the family Rotberg sold the possessions around their castle Burg Rotberg to the canton of Solothurn?

The map shows the possessions that Solothurn bought; they are marked with “SO” and are surrounded by “BL” (Baselland).

Let us summarize the five secrets that I found, when walking from Rodersdorf to Flüh in 2020:

  1. Historical border stones from the years 1817, 1890 and 1951 between France and Switzerland – why from 1817? And can you see the “D” hidden “behind” the “F” for France? 
  2. Biederthal and its castle, Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?
  3. Why does the canton of Solothurn (SO) “own” an exclave within Basel (BL)? What can the Burg Rotberg tell us about this?
  4. Why did the Romans dig a cart road (“Karrweg”) into the rocks to get from Flüh to Hofstetten – avoiding the valley? 
  5. The Chälegrabe above Hofstetten – why is this spectacular gorge called “Chäle”-Grabe”?

I have talked about secret #1 and #2. Now I continue with secrets #3 and #4 (leaving secret #5 for a later blog).

 

3  Why does the canton of Solothurn (SO) “own” an exclave within Basel (BL)? What can the castle Rotberg tell us about this?

The castle Burg Rotberg is beautifully located on the slopes below the Blauen chain, as seen from across, from the north, when walking from Mariastein to Metzerlen.

This is the view of the castle Burg Rotberg from “behind”; I took it, when walking at the foot of the Blauen. 

The castle Rotberg belonged to the noble Rotberg family that had their origins in this area. In 1408, the German emperor gave them the villages Rodersdorf, Metzerlen, Mariastein, Hofstetten, Flüh, Bättwil and Witterswil as a fief. The Rotberg family reported directly to the emperor, and the castle Rotberg was their domicile. However, soon the Rotberg family preferred to live in Basel, while their castle started to decay in the 15th century. 1451-1458, the family supplied the Prince-Bishop of Basel. His name was Arnold von Rotberg, and he is buried in the cathedral of Basel.

In 1515, the noblemen of Rotberg sold all the villages around their castle Burg Rotberg. They sold them to Solothurn for 4400 Gulden, and Basel advanced the money to Solothurn. It is true, for 4400 Gulden, Basel “gave away” the villages that were and are so close to their city. 

The castle Burg Rotberg was in ruins until 1934. At that time, it was reconstructed based on romantic ideas about “old” castles and opened up as a youth hostel that has been popular until today. 

Solothurn built its territory successfully from the 14th until the early 16th century. Some areas they conquered and others they bought. Their success in acquiring land at the cost of Basel becomes clear, when looking at the modern canton of Solothurn; it almost surrounds Baselland.

Source: http://ontheworldmap.com/switzerland/canton/solothurn 

One of the villages now belonging to Solothurn, Mariastein, became an important place of pilgrimage. In 1648, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Beinwil decided to move to Mariastein. At Mariastein, he built the neo-gothic church with the baroque interior. The monastery was active until 1874, then closed down and reopened in 1941. The church and the monastery have been fully renovated after 1971. This is the view from the north, with the Blauen chain in the background.

I was surprised to find a vineyard here, above 500m. But, yes, I do understand, monasteries need wine for their Communion. 

There are many opportunities to pray around Mariastein – this is the Chapel St. Anna.

Across, from the south, the panoramic path at the foot of the Blauen chain provides the view of Mariastein with the castle Landskron in the background (the Landskron is already located in France).

Well, now we have learnt, just 4400 Gulden made the area of the Rotberg family become part of the canton Solothurn, of the canton that has been rivalling with Basel 500 years ago. 

 

Why did the Romans dig the cart road (“Karrweg”) into the rocks to get from Flüh to Hofstetten – avoiding the valley? 

When continuing my way along the foot of the Blauen chain towards Hofstetten, I enjoy the panorama; Hofstetten is located in the foreground; in the background we can see the city of Basel and the Black Forest.

The Flüebach valley leads from Hofstetten down to Flüh. First the Romans built the connecting road in the valley, but the Flüebach used to overflow its banks destroying the road again and again. To make the connection between Flüh and Hofstetten more reliable, the Romans decided to cut the road into the rocks above the valley. This Roman cart road (“Karrweg”) was in use until around 1800. 

It was the braking wheels of the carts that engraved the marks in the rock. The old Roman cart road is now the hiking path that I take to walk down to Flüh.

Flüh is attached to the cliffs. Actually around here, in the Jura and in the Pre-Alps, the cliffs are called “Fluh” or in dialect “Flue” (Plural: “Flühe” or in dialect “Flüe” or “Flie”). 

The community of Flüh-Hofstetten has published a charming Website illustrating the history with cartoons full of humour. An instructive pleasure to read through it.

By bike, I take the Napoleon route to return home, looking back at the village Flüh that climbs up from the valley towards Mariastein and the Blauen chain. 

I intend to return soon to explore the fifth secret, which is the Chälegrabe.

Around Basel: Historical secrets on the hike from Rodersdorf to Flüh

The area around Basel is full of secrets. 

Source: Swiss Mobile (with my notes added) 

In October 2020, I hiked from Rodersdorf to Flüh (red line), and discovered five secrets:

  1. Historical border stones from the years 1817, 1890 and 1951 between France and Switzerland – why from 1817? And can you see the “D” (Germany or “D”eutschland) hidden “behind” the “F” for France? 
  2. Biederthal and its castle, Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?
  3. Why does the canton of Solothurn (SO) “own” an exclave within Basel (BL)? What can the Burg Rotberg tell us about this?
  4. Why did the Romans dig a cart road (“Karrweg”) into the rocks to get from Flüh to Hofstetten – avoiding the valley? 
  5. The Chälegrabe above Hofstetten – why is this spectacular gorge called “Chäle”-Grabe”?

In this blog, I will start with secrets #1 and #2, while leaving the other secrets for the next blogs.

 

1 The historical border stones between Metzerlen and Burg

Where the (car) road from Rodersdorf up to Metzerlen reaches the highest point of the pass, it touches the border between France and Switzerland.

The hiking signs to the Remel (or Raemel in French) are on the French side.  

Here we find stone #109 that is from 1890. It shows the edge of the French/Swiss border pointing to the wooden steps,…

… where the path lined with more historical border stones starts. The stones are either

  • from 1817 (just after the Congress of Vienna, 1815),
  • from 1890 (the Alsace belonged to Germany since 1870/71) or…
  • from 1951 (which happens to be my year of birth). 

After having climbed the wooden steps, we come across stone #110 from 1817. Why 1817? At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, statesmen and diplomats had reorganized Europe, which needed to be documented.

All border stones from 1817 show the coat of arms of the Swiss canton Solothurn with S and O engraved to the sides.

On the French side, the French engraved the fleur de Lys. After 1870/71, the Germans, having conquered the Alsace, removed the flower to replace it with “D” for Germany. After World War I (1918), the Alsace became French again, and the French changed the  “D” into the “F” for France, but the “D” can still be seen (border stone #110). 

There must have been an inventory of the country borders in 1890. The Alsace was still part of Germany and Bismarck had just resigned. The 1890 stones have an “S” with a cross engraved on the Swiss side (stone #116).

The stones from 1951 have been produced more “efficiently”: A plain “S” and a plain “F” mark the countries (stone #115).

The pretty path with the border stones winds through the forest and crosses the romantic Y-shaped canyon of the Geissberg above Biederthal.

At Burg, we leave the canton Solothurn. We are now in the former Prince-Bishopric of Basel. 

 

2 Biederthal and its castle Burg (Biederthal) – why are they separated by the border between France and Switzerland?

In 1168, Friedrich Barbarossa, the one with the red beard, gave the area to the Habsburgians, as a fief. They built the castle or Burg Biederthal in 1250 to watch over their tithe courtyard Biederthal (Dinghof). In 1269, the archbishop of Basel bought just the castle/Burg of Biederthal, without its tithe courtyard Biederthal, which remained with the Habsburgians and later became part of France. This is why the country border separates the castle from “its” village. Burg now became a village of its own.

In 1946, Burg selected this coat of arms.

Source: wiki entry for Burg

Where does the coat of arms come from? The answer: The archbishop of Basel granted Burg as a fief to the noblemen von Wessenberg. They owned it from 1401 to 1793. Around Burg  we can find the historical border stones of the Wessenberg. One well-kept stone is a few meters below the summit “Remel/Raemel” above Burg. From the Wessenberg, the community of Burg took the coat of arms in 1946.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna decided to merge the former Prince-Bishopric of Basel with Switzerland; Burg became part of the canton of Bern, belonging to the district Laufental. Later, in 1993, the Laufental (with Burg) voted to join the canton of Baselland instead. Nevertheless, many border stones around Burg have kept showing the coat of arms of Bern, the bear. This stone with the bear of Berne marks the border with France, just below Burg.

Border stones from 1817, 1890 and 1951 and a castle separated from “its” village by the border of France and Switzerland – yes, the area around Basel is full of secrets that can be discovered hiking.

 

Sources: https://www.baselland.ch/politik-und-behorden/gemeinden/burg-il/unsere-gemeinde/geschichte-wappen

 

 

Four days at Salgesch – discovering Leukerbad, the underground lake and the Pfynwald

In September 2020, we spent four days at Salgesch. In my former blog, I have already talked about discovering Salgesch and the area around it.

Let us now move a little farther away, to Leukerbad, to the underground lake Saint-Léonard near Sion and to the Pfynwald or Forêt de Finges.

Source: Google Maps

 

Leukerbad – discovering the hot springs

On our second day at Salgesch, we visit Leukerbad, located on 1400m above sea level surrounded by an amphitheatre of steep rocks. Crossing these steep rocks, the Gemmipass connects Leukerbad in the Valais with Kandersteg in the Bernese Alps.

Emerging from these steep rocks, the Dala has eroded a deep gorge above Leukerbad. We explore it using the so-called “Thermal-Springs Gangway”.

I  hear a a rattling noise. My friend uses the rope winch to pull up a bucket from the well basin far below. The water in the bucket and hence in the well below us is warm, almost hot.

This is one amidst 65 hot springs in the Dala canyon, as this panel tells us: The yellow-brownish area follows the Dala, and it is here, where the 65 hot springs of Leukerbad have their sources. Some of them have temperatures up to 51 degrees.

The water emerges in the Dala canyon, after having been heated up at 500m below sea level. Originally it is rain water from the mountains east of Leukerbad (Torrenthorn and Majinghorn) that takes about forty years to seep deeply into the soil, where it is heated up to emerge in this canyon. Already the Romans made use of the hot springs of Leukerbad – the hottest in Switzerland.

Now I understand, why the gangway along the Dala gorge is called “Thermal-Springs Gangway” (Thermalquellen-Steg).

A series of ladders take us out of the impressive Dala canyon.

Looking at the creeks and meadows nearby, I can hardly believe that this narrow and steep canyon is so close.

In the warm sunshine, we eat our sandwiches at the romantic green lake Majing…

… with some branches in it.

We return to Leukerbad. Strolling through the village, we touch the water emerging at the fountains – most of it is warm, one fountain is even hot.

We visit the church of Leukerbad. The original choir is from the late 15th century. Some frescos have been restored such as the crucifixion at the back. In the late 19th century, the church was enlarged and the old choir became a side chapel.

We round off our day at the Alpentherme enjoying the gorgeous view of the mountains in the outside pool, while being massaged by bubbling jets.

 

The underground lake Saint-Léonard

On our third day, the sky is cloudy and temperatures are cooler. Just right for a visit of the underground lake Saint-Léonard that I had always wanted to see one day.

At the entry gate, we have to rush. A few seats are still free in the boat, and we can immediately join the next tour that is about to start. Ladders lead down to the cave. The boat takes us along the lake that is some 300m long and 20m wide. At the end, we find another boat…

… and the trouts swimming around with agility and indicating that the water quality is good.

The guide explains to us that the underground lake has been discovered in 1943. At that time, the water level was much higher. An earthquake of 5.6 on the Richter scale made the water level go down. In1949 the cave was opened to the public.

 

The Pfynwald / Forêt de Finges

Below the village Varen, the Rhone (called “Rotten” in the Upper German speaking Valais) meanders along the Pfynwald (on the left side of the valley, photo taken from the road to Leukerbad). In the upper forest, the place names are in German and in the lower forest, they are in French, as the language border between the French and the German language crosses the Pfynwald.

The Pfynwald is a nature reserve, and it is one of the largest contiguous pine forests in the Alps.

With astonishment, we notice quite some birch trees amidst the pine trees.

South of the Pfynwald are the Illgraben (canyon of the Ill creek) and the Illhorn (the corresponding mountain peak). Very steep and rough here.

The Bhutan bridge crosses the canyon of the Ill creek. The suspension bridge symbolizes the link between the languages (French and German) and between different cultures (Alps and Himalaya).

This bridge was engineered in Bhutan and implemented by a construction company of the Valais, guided by an engineer of Bhutan. It was an interesting cooperation, where both sides learnt from one another. This is what the panel on the other side of the bridge explains.

The Buddhist sanctuary, a “chort”, greets hikers at the foot of the bridge. It has been built and blessed by Bhutanese Lamas from France.

After a two hours’ walk in the forest, we return to Salgesch to have our last wine tasting at the cellar of our winegrower and to eat a delicious Raclette at the restaurant Barrique in the centre of the city.

 

Enjoying the balcony of our BnB

The south facing balcony of our BnB with the view of the Pfynwald (forest) and the Illhorn (mountain peak) was a great place to be in the early morning, when the sun rises behind the glass wall…

… or when it rises behind the clouds.

After our last late summer evening on the balcony, we say good-bye to Salgesch and the Valais. We leave it using the Grimsel, one of the passes that the Alemanni used to migrate to the Upper Valais a 1000 years ago. We think of returning to Salgesch next year, when we will have run out of wine from the Valais once again.

 

Soruces:
Hans-Ed. Fierz David, “Über die Leuker Thermalquellen…“, Zürich 1942.
Panels along the Thermalquellen -Steg
André Beerli, “La Suisse Inconnue: Valais”, TSC and Shell Switzerland, oJg.