Strasbourg and its impressive cathedral

In 2016, I spent some warm September days in Germany. With Ursula I visited the Palatine, the middle Rhine and the Mosel/Nahe area. On day 15, we went from Bad Bergzabern to Strasbourg, and stopped at the Moulin de Wantzenau near Strasbourg to stay overnight.  I had drafted the blog about our 16th day at Strasbourg without publishing it. I am doing so now.

Today is Thursday, our 16th day traveling. The swooshing of the river Ill made us sleep well under the roof of the Moulin de Wantzenau. This is the view of the Ill from our window.


After a clear night with stars, the sun welcomes us again in the morning.

P&R IS P&R in Strasbourg
Our plan is to visit Strasbourg today. Our hotel is not far from the final tram station of Höhnheim with a huge P&R parking. The parking PLUS the tram tickets for up to six persons costs some 4 Euros. What a bargain! We understood this, after having bought our tram tickets in addition to parking ticket. We may be just too impatient to get to Strasbourg…
Again and again, the bilingual Alsace has been tossed between Germany and France 
Look at the street signs: “Rue de la Hache” translates to “Axtgässel” (yes, la hache = die Axt).
Other examples are “Rue des Echasses/Stelzengass”, “Rue des Juifs/Judegass”, “Quai des Moulins/Müehlstade” (all exact translations) or “Impasse du Tiroir/Münstergässel” (not an exact translation). These bilingual street signs remind us of the fact that the Alsace/Elsass has been tossed between France and Germany in the past centuries. I love to listen to the soft Alsacian dialect that mixes French and Alemannic words and resembles our dialect in Basel.
The Cathedral of Strasbourg is a gem 
Building the cathedral that we see today lasted from the 12th to the mid 15th century or from early to late gothic style (source: Hans Reinhardt, “das Strassburger Münster”, Lescuyer – Lyon and Susanne Tschirner,  “Elsass”, Dumont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 2000).

We approach the cathedral from the north, through the Rue du Dôme. The late gothic northern gate is devoted to Laurentius, a martyr that was burned on an iron grill in the 3rd century.


This is the (older) western portal with the tower (142m high) and with the rosette.


Maria with her son and the passion of Christ is decorating the west gate, as the cathedral is devoted to her.


On the side portal we find the wise and the foolish maidens. These are the foolish maidens that are being seduced by the man on the left… he shows off, but his back is covered with snakes indicating that he cannot be trusted. A very similar seducer is also decorating the cathedral of my home town Basel. Strasbourg served as the model for Basel (and other churches in the area).


Inside the western gate is illuminated by the colours of the rosette with its 16 “leaves” and 12 windows.


Ursula has taken this photo of one of the northern windows (from the 12/13th century)…

… and of the organ (“swallow’s nest organ” made by Silbermann 1716) that hangs in the nave.


I am very impressed by the engineering skills that went into building the astronomical clock. It counts the minutes, hours, week days, months and years (including calculating the correct date of Easter), based on the heliocentric system of Copernicus. In addition various installations illustrate the passing of time (and life) and the life of Christ. E.g. an angel turns a sand watch every hour. Or a cock waves his wings performing his cock-a-doodle-doo, while the apostles walk past Christ one by one. The first astronomical clock was built in the 14th century and broke down in the 16th century. A second clock was then built that broke down in the late 18th century. This second clock was repaired and modernized between 1838 and 1842 (source: Th. Ungerer, “Die astronomische Uhr des Strassburger Münsters”, Societé d’édition de la Basse-Alsace).


The angels’ column from 1225, near the astronomical clock, is a master piece of sculptural art. The 93 year old godfather of my husband Ernst remembered it and asked me later, whether I have noticed this column.


A man stands on the gallery and watches us silently. Or does he not watch us? Legend says that he was one of the governors of Strasbourg who had doubts about the angel column being stable. He was petrified to wait here, until the angel column collapses – which obviously has not happened so far.



The half-timbered houses, especially in La Petite France

Strasbourg is full of romantic corners with half-timbered houses.


The  Maison Kammerzell is not far from the cathedral – the wood carving is from Renaissance times, 1589.


These are houses in La Petite France where the Ill divides up into several channels.


The channels were used for medieval industry. For instance the tanners (in French “tanneurs” and in Alsacian “Gerwer”) lived and worked here.


Nowadays the channels are more used for leisure.


We had lunch in the small restaurant Coccinelle (or “ladybeetle”). I enjoyed my snails.

Full of impressions we take the tram back, pick up our car and enjoy the warm summer evening in the wonderful park of our hotel Moulin de Wantzenau. Ursula discovers this snail on the beans cultivated in the hotel garden.


We think of coming back to Strasbourg by train to visit the museums around the cathedral.


Returning home with a short stop in Hunawihr

On Friday, our 17th day, we return home with a short stop in Hunawihr (source: “L’église fortifiée de Hunawihr”, SAEP edition 1990) the history of which goes back to the 7th century, when Hunon settled here and his charitable wife Huna washed the clothes of the sick. The church that we see today dates from the 14th/15th/16th century, the tower being the oldest part.


Under these vaults, catholic and protestant service are held – this is called “simultaneum”. Hunawihr followed Zwingli in the reformation, as it belonged to Württemberg then, and the catholic belief was restored under French rule by Louis XIV.


Before returning home, I buy some Riesling and Gewürztraminer from Sipp-Mack. Then we say good-bye to the pretty village of Hunawihr.


We have felt like these fish in the fountain for almost three weeks – just great – and we plan to return to the Alsace soon for some one day excursions.


Around Basel – the church Saint Nicholas of Lausen, another “hidden” gem

Cycling from Liestal to Lausen on the winding bike road, I discover the belfry of this small church.


“Oh, they seem to have a pretty church at Lausen”, I say to myself.

The door is open and invites me to enter. What a wonderful, solemn and cosy atmosphere inside. The choir has been decorated with frescoes…

… and under the gallery,…

… some sofas invite to sit down and…

… let the children play with toys and books in the corner.


To find out more about this gem, I read the small guide of the GSK or Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte written by Heyer in 1974. 


Beautiful frescoes from the 15th century

In the middle of the 15th century, the Romanesque church burnt down. It was reconstructed and in 1450, the choir was completely painted with frescoes. Two frescoes dominate, the Crucifixion scene and the legend of Saint Nicholas.

The crucifixion occurs in a building indicated by columns and arches. Mary and John are coated in cloths that are richly pleated. Christ has his eyes closed and the representation of his body is stylized.

it is unusual that the crucifixion occurs inside a building. Based on this, Heyer (p. 11) concludes that the master artist of Lausen might have been influenced by early Renaissance representations that also place the crucifixion inside buildings. Oh yes, I remember one such fresco from Santa Maria Novella at Florence. It is Masaccio’s Holy Trinity (1427/28).

The east window in the choir shows the Crucifixion scene as well. It is from 1430/1440, hence older than the frescoes in the choir, and Christ with Maria and John are more compact.

The crucifixion scene in the window is sided by the church fathers Ambrosius and…

… Augustinus.

Above are medaillons with angels indicating the names of the evangelists.

As the church is consecrated to Saint Nicholas, a legend of his appears in the choir as well. He is giving some gold coins to three poor girls in order to protect them from being sold to the brothel. Saint Nicholas stands to the right in the vestibule handing his gift over to the girls that have come together in the second hall. The father stands close to the left border and can hardly be seen. The protagonists are grouped skilfully, the fresco is full of energy.

Let us look back at the choir with the crucifixion and…

… with the legend of Saint Nicholas. 

The unostentatious communion table, I suspect, is from the 17th century, as mentioned by Heyer, p.6. In the background is the priest’s chair from 1707. 

The spandrels of the choir arch are decorated with the Annunciation scene. To the left, we see the red dress of archangel Gabriel and to the right, the building in which Mary is kneeling under the Holy Spirit represented as a pigeon. Unfortunately the entry to the pulpit has destroyed much of this fresco.

Another small detail: the turned stand next to the stairs leading to the pulpit is, I assume, the guéridon acquired in 1706 that Heyer mentions. Modestly, various treasures are decorating the choir.

Let us return to the fresco with the Annunciation. It is not the first time that I see the Annunciation scene appear in the spandrels above the access to the choir.

At about the same time as the church of Lausen, the chapel of Saint Servatius in Upper Bavaria was decorated with frescoes in 1440, and also here, the Annunciation scene is in the spandrels above the access to the choir: Archangel Gabriel is on the left hand side and tells Mary to the right that she will give birth to Jesus. 

Furthermore in the marvellous Saint Mary church at Pontresina, the Annunciation has been fitted into the spandrels above the entry to the choir. These frescoes are from 1495.

Heyer suggests that the side walls of the choir might have been decorated with the apostles; this is Jacob, just next to the Crucifixion scene. 

Church father Gregor appears in the northern window of the choir, wearing his pontifical dress and the tiara, and he holds a book in his hands.

This is the view from the gallery back into the church and the choir.

The frescoes on the choir wall show the Nativity of Christ to the left and – perhaps – the Adoration of the three Magi on the right. However, they are difficult to discern (Heyer, p.7).

The three combined chairs to the right are from the 17th century. The four oak columns in the nave have been worked using an axe and have been added in 1616. From the same year is the pulpit, made in early Renaissance style by a carpenter from Liestal. 

Next to the pulpit we find the fresco of Saint Barbara with a palm leaf and her attribute, the tower. 

Together with Jacobus in the window, the frescoes in the nave are younger than the ones in the choir, as Heyer presumes (p.8). The person kneeling below Barbara could be the donator of the frescoes in the nave.

Beautiful frescoes are hiding in unostentatious Lausen! As Heyer, p. 11, says, the frescoes have been painted by a grand craftsman and they are of high artistic value. I do agree with him.


Short summary of the construction history

The Saint Nicholas church is located far outside of the centre of Lausen. In Roman times there was an estate here and later a Frankish village, Bettenach. The people from Lausen call it “Urlausen“. 

  • 8/9th century: Foundations excavated indicate that a – smaller – early medieval church existed.
  • 11th century: A second church was built in Romanesque style.  From that time the norther entry door has been preserved as well as two small windows next to the gallery.

  • 15th century: The Romanesque church burnt down. It was reconstructed with higher walls and the rectangular choir as well as with a wooden ceiling. In 1450, the choir was decorated with the frescoes. 
  • 1564: After the Reformation, the frescoes were whitewashed. 
  • 17th century: In 1616/17, the church was renovated. The wooden ceiling was replaced, the four wooden columns were added. Furthermore, carpenter Peter Baschin from Lausen created the early Renaissance pulpit that can be accessed from the choir. In 1685, the gallery was renovated. Windows were added and removed again and again.

  • 1874: The frescoes were discovered and carefully restored. 
  • 1971/72: The monument conservator of Baselland, H.R. Heyer, guided the renovation. So far unknown frescoes were laid open. Shortly afterwards, in 1974, Heyer wrote the brochure for the Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte.

Based on Heyer’s brochure, I studied the Saint Nicholas Church. Note that I am not an art historian – I just love such works of art that have been preserved for centuries.  


Saying good-bye to the marvellous church of Saint Nicholas

So far, I had known the village Lausen as an exit from the near highway. Now, in April 2021, one of the vaccination centres is at Lausen. To check out beforehand, where this centre is, I went there by bike. And this is, how I accidentally discovered this gem of a church, the Saint Nicolas church of Lausen.

To round off my visit, I stroll through the cemetery. I will return to enjoy the solemn and cosy atmosphere of this country church again and show it to my friends.

Sources: H.R. Heyer, “Die Kirche von Lausen”, Schweizerischer Kunstführer, herausgegeben von der Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte, Basel 1974.

More than skiing around Pontresina: The Church of Saint Mary

Do you know the marvellous church of Saint Mary at Pontresina?

I have discovered it recently, in March 2021, when staying at Pontresina. I have discovered it only recently, though, for more than 20 years, I have been at Pontresina again and again for skiing or hiking, however so far not taking notice of this gem. 

The church of Saint Mary is located at the highest point of the village. A steep path leads uphill.


Approaching the church of Saint Mary 

After having climbed up the steep path, the church of Saint Mary welcomes me with the gate open.

I look at the the belfry. The first three storeys are from the late 12th century. The two niches are decorated with blind arcades, reflecting the Lombardian style that started to spread over Europe around 1000. On the third floor, the windows with the round arches are divided by two columns. The top fourth floor and the roof have been added in the 19th century. 

Talking about Lombardian blind arcades, I found them for instance in Northern Catalonia. This is Iglesia de la Mair de Diu dera Purificacion at Bossòst in the Val d’Aran, another mountain church, and it is just one example of many such magnificent, small mountain churches in Northern Catalonia.

Looking back through the gate opens up a great view of the village Pontresina with the Roseg in the background. Dogs are not allowed here.

Above the entry door, the first frescoes show Saint George killing the dragon to free the princess and, below, Maria breastfeeding Jesus, whereby Petrus and a bishop are watching the scene. These frescoes are from 1495 (Bamert, p. 23).


The early frescoes from 1230 remind me of early Christian churches

On the back (west) wall, three frescoes from 1230 have been preserved.

This is Epiphany or the Three Kings visiting Jesus. Maria sits on the right hand side (her head has been destroyed) with Jesus blessing the kings. The oldest king (with a beard) is kneeling in front of Maria with Jesus. His crown reminds me of the Monomakh crown of the Russian Tsar (the Byzantine heritage on display in the Kremlin of Moscow). The other two kings are standing, whereby the middle king points to the Star of Bethlehem. The third king is the youngest of the three.

The middle painting shows the baptism of Jesus. He stands in the river Jordan (symbolized by an old man at the bottom between Saint John and Jesus). John the Baptist touches the head of Jesus. He wears his fur coat, painted with much care, and two angels keep the plaid cloth of Jesus. 

The scene reminds me of the mosaic in the Arian Baptistery at Ravenna. Also here, Jesus stands in the river Jordan. The river is personified by an old man (to the left of Jesus). John wearing his fur coat and carrying a walking stick, christens Jesus by rubbing his head (probably with ointment, as I now understand from Bamert, p. 11). Christ is a young man, like in Saint Mary church.

This is the same scene in the Orthodox (Neonian) Baptistery at Ravenna, whereby it is assumed that the scene, otherwise preserved in the original, has partially been altered later by giving John the cross and the silver vessel. Christ has a beard which makes him look older.

The baptisteries of Ravenna are from around 500 and the fresco at Pontresina, painted in 1200, is so similar. 

Let us look at the third fresco from 1230. It contains two pictures in one, the Foot Washing (left) and the Last Supper (right). At the Last Supper, Christ sits in the middle handing over bread to Judas who is at the other side of the table. In the Foot Washing scene, Petrus sits on the edge of the table and Jesus, standing in front of him, washes his feet. 

The frescoes from 1230 have been overpainted by new frescoes in 1495, after the church had been amplified. Three of the older frescoes could be uncovered by removing some newer frescoes from 1495 and moving them to the bottom of the eastern wall. This is the eastern wall, where the bottom row of frescoes has been transferred to.


The newer frescoes from 1495 painted after the amplification of the church

After having been amplified, the whole church is repainted by new frescoes in 1495.

The choir is dominated by Christ in the Mandorla, around him the symbols of the Evangelists. Above the entry to the choir we can see the Annunciation scene, with archangel Gabriel to the left and Maria to the right. Above Maria, Godfather shows Jesus to her that will be born soon. 

To the sides of Christ are the four fathers of the church; Ambrosius and Augustinus have been well preserved.

The apostles decorate the bottom of the choir. 

On the western wall the bottom row and the fresco between the windows belong to the Last Judgment, where Christ separates the good from the evil. The top row and.. 

… the frescoes above the entry door illustrate scenes from the life of Christ. I can see the Joseph and Maria with the donkey on their way to Bethlehem, Jesus at the age of 12 being presented in the temple, right above the door the empty grave with the three women and Pentecost.

The eastern wall tells the life of Christ and…

… at the bottom, the story of Maria-Magdalena (frescoes transferred from the western wall to uncover the frescoes from 1230).

The western wall “wraps around” the belfry that can be accessed through a tiny Romanesque door. Here the top row shows more scenes of the life of Christ and below is the story of Maria Magdalena (except where the frescoes from 1230 have been uncovered by removing Maria Magdalena).

The story of Maria Magdalena is told in 18 frescoes, the order of which has been changed by transferring some of the frescoes. It is a legend written down in the 13th century (Bamert, p. 18). Maria Magdalena is pushed on to the open sea in a rudderless vessel (above, left). She lands and preaches to a noble couple in Marseille (above, right), and she prays for them to have children. While the couple makes a pilgrimage to Rome, the child is born on the boat in stormy weather. Mother and child perish. The husband deposits them on a rocky island, continues his way to Rome, meets Petrus there that tells him, he will find his wife and child alive again, when returning. And so it was. The noble family returns to Marseille. Maria Magdalena is buried and causes more wonders after her death. 


The decoration in the church of Saint Mary

The wonderfully decorated wooded ceiling from 1497 topped the amplification of the church.

The marquetry of the table in the choir alludes to its purpose, the Communion. The lady in the centre holds a cup in one hand and an altar bread in the other. The table is from the late 17th century, and the inscription in southern Romansh indicates that it must come from the southern valley Münstertal. 

The beautiful pulpit made from Swiss pine wood reminds me that I am in the mountains. 


Around the church of Saint Mary with the cemetery

I leave the church of Saint Mary – it is chilly inside and I feel cold. For a while I sit on the sun on the bench. 

Then I stroll through the cemetery and look back to the Roseg mountain.

The gravestones are half-buried under the snow – an enchanting atmosphere.

Some of the tombstones reflect the wealth of the villagers.


The defensive Spaniola tower near the church of Saint Mary 

To round off my visit of the church of Saint Mary, I walk over to the near Spaniola tower built in 1210.

Pontresina evolved, where two creeks, the Ova da Bernina and the Ova da Roseg meet. In the 12/13th century it was known as Ponte (bridge) Sarraceno. It is under debate, whether “Sarraceno” comes from the Sarracens or whether it was a family name. At any rate, in medieval times, Pontresina, strategically located on the way to the Bernina pass, was more important than St. Moritz. 

I will soon return to Pontresina, as I love the area for alpine and cross country skiing as well as for hiking. And when I return, I will visit the church of Saint Mary again to look at the frescoes more in detail, perhaps (when this virus permits) on a guided visit.  



  • Markus Bamert und Oskar Emmenegger: “St. Maria in Pontresina”, Schweizerische Kunstführer GSK, Bern 2002.
  • “Kirche Sta. Maria Pontresina – Fresken 13. und 15. Jahrhundert”, Aufnahmen und Verlag Foto Flury, Pontresina.
  • Website “Church of St. Mary
  • Pontresina, wikipedia entry.

Around Basel: The fortified Church of Saint Arbogast at Muttenz

The fortified church of Saint Arbogast at Muttenz is a gem, with the frescoes creating a solemn atmosphere and with the defensive wall surrounding it. Let us explore this gem!


The beginnings of the Church of Saint Arbogast 

In the 8/9th century, the first church is constructed under the direction of the bishopric Strasbourg. It is dedicated to Saint Arbogast, the first bishop of Strasbourg; he lived around 600. The second church follows around 1100.

In the mid 12th century, the third church is built in Romanesque style. From that time, we see the Romanesque front choir.

In addition, some of the 12th century ashlars have been uncovered, as here on the northern wall of the nave. 


The lords Münch-Löwenberg (14th century) and Münch-Eptingen (15th century)

In the 14th century, after the Basel earthquake of 1356, the lords of Münch-Löwenberg renovate the church. They make the main choir rectangular (there was an apsis before). 

They reconstruct the vault of the front choir topping it with the coat of arms of the Münch-Löwenberg (two monks and two lions), and there are monks and lions along the ribs of the vaults. 

Since 1939, the lion of the Münch-Löwenberg has decorated the coat of arms of Muttenz, sitting on top of what stands for the three castles on the Wartenberg above Muttenz.

In addition to the works at the choirs, the Münch-Löwenberg enlarge the nave to the west and to the south.

In the 15th century, the Münch-Eptingen are the lords of Muttenz. In 1420, they enlarge the church tower marking it with their coat of arms, the alliance of the Münch (monk) with the Eptingen (eagle; today the coats of arms of the villages Pratteln and Eptingen). 

In 1430, the Münch-Eptingen surround the church with the defensive wall and two gate towers. The coat of arms of the Münch, a monk, is on the northern gate tower, above the entry. 

Around 1450, the Münch-Eptinger have the nave and the front choir painted with frescoes. Two frescoes have been preserved, the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche. 

The Arbogast legend decorates the front choir. The son of king Dagobert, Siegbert, has been killed, when hunting. Dagobert takes his son to Arbogast and asks him to wake up his son (first painting); on the second painting, the son lifts his head. 

The so-called apostle medaillon above the door is from the fourteenth century. The ashlars behind the chairs and to the left of the door are from the 12th century.

The so-called resurrection niche on the northern wall of the nave is the second 1450 fresco that has been preserved.


Under Basel (pledged to Basel in 1470 and administered by the Saint Peter Canon, since 1515 owned by Basel)

Around 1470, Muttenz reports into Basel. The Münch need money and they pledge Muttenz to Basel. The Saint Peter Canon administers Muttenz and sponsors the church. In 1504, the canon makes the nave higher enhancing the space available for frescoes. In 1507, the canon decides to redo the paintings, while integrating and renovating the legend of Arbogast and the Resurrection niche. The northern wall shows the Passion of Christ and the southern wall is dedicated to the life Maria and Christ. This is the southern wall. The best preserved fresco shows the flight to Egypt. 

The bottom part of the south, west and north wall contains a long fresco with the apostles surrounded by letter bands. This is Matthew (Matheus), and in the upper left corner we discern the year 1507. 

The wooden ceiling has been made by carpenter Ulrich Bruder from Basel, also in 1504. 

All frescoes are whitewashed a few years later, as Basel joins the reformation and Muttenz has to follow. In the late 19th century, the frescoes will be rediscovered. 

In 1618 the baptismal font is added; it stands in the front choir, now, in early spring, behind branches of magnolia. 

In 1630, the gallery is constructed, and two new windows are cut into the north and south wall of the nave, while closing up the one former window. The organ is from 1976. Hidden behind the gallery and the organ is the fresco of the Last Judgment. Accessing the gallery is not allowed. 


Outside the church: The ossuary house

In the late 15th century, the Saint Peter Canon add the ossuary to the garden and have it painted in 1513.  

To the left, Saint Christopher carries Jesus that is becoming heavier and heavier,…

… the Archangel Michael is in the middle,… 

… and, to the right, the Virgin of Mercy (Schutzmantelmadonna) protects the faithful under her coat.

Inside are the Last Judgment and the legend of the thankful dead persons (a knight always prays for the souls of the dead, when passing the cemetery. One day, he is attacked by bandits. The dead persons come to his aid and the bandits run away). I will have to ask for the key one day to see the frescoes inside the ossuary. 


The border stones of Muttenz

Along the defensive wall, there are border stones. According to the panel, they once marked various properties and some marked the border of Muttenz.  

Here are some of the border stones zoomed in.


Good-bye Muttenz and Arbogast Church, for now

This is the view from the south gate into the village. The church is surrounded by the well preserved village centre. 

Yes, to my opinion, Muttenz deserves the Wakker award that it received in 1983. I like to return to Muttenz again and again.


Background Information: Summarizing the history of the St. Arbogast Church


  • 8th/9th century: First church, built under the direction of the diocese Strasbourg. Named after Arbogast, the first  bishop of Strasbourg (around 600).
  • About 1100: Second church.
  • Mid 12th century: Third church with apsis. Today we can still see the Romanesque front choir and some Romanesque ashlars in the front choir and outside on the north wall of the church.


Under the lords of Münch-Löwenberg (14th century) and the lords of Münch-Eptingen (15th century)

  • 1359: The Münch-Löwenberg restore the church after the Basel earthquake of 1356. They replace the apsis by the rectangular choir, they enlarge the nave to the west and to the south, and they reconstruct the Romanesque front choir marking the vaults with their coat of arms (monk and lion).
  • 1420: The Münch-Eptingen enlarge the belfry and insert their coat of arms on the western edge (monk and eagle).
  • About 1430: The Münch build the defensive wall (7m high, two gate towers, protection of the villagers) and add their coat of arms on the north gate tower (monk).
  • 1450: The Münch paint the nave, the front choir and the choir (the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche have been preserved).


Under Basel (from 1470 pledged to Basel and administered by the Saint Peter Canon, from 1515 owned by Basel)

  • 1504: The Saint Peter Canon makes the nave higher and covers it with a wooden ceiling (Ulrich Bruder, carpenter from Basel).
  • 1507: New walls need new frescoes. The Canon has the church repainted, whereby preserving the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche.
  • 1513: The ossuary, built after 1470, is decorated with frescoes.
  • 1529: Muttenz joins the reformation. All frescoes are whitewashed.


1600 until today

  • 1618: Baptismal font. It stands in the front choir.
  • 1630: Gallery and two new windows in the north and south wall of the nave, replacing the former one window on each wall. One floor and the pointed roof are added to the belfry.
  • 1880/81 and 1972-74: Renovations. 

This layout of the Arbogast church illustrates the building history.

Source: Hans-Rudolf Heyer und Ernst Murbach, “Dorfkirche Muttenz”, p. 3, my own comments and colours added.


More background: The history of Muttenz from early medieval times until today

  • 793 Muttenz is mentioned as the profane property of the Chapter of Strasbourg. 
  • 1320 The noble family Münch are fief holders, first the Münch-Löwenberg, followed in 1420 by the Münch-Eptingen.
  • 1470 The Münch pledge Muttenz to Basel; Muttenz is administered by the Saint Peter Canon.
  • 1515 Basel owns Muttenz.
  • 1527 Muttenz joins the reformation.
  • 1833 When Basel divides up into two half cantons, Muttenz joins Baselland (Basle Country).
  • 1900 Muttenz is a village with 2500 inhabitants.
  • 1939 The coat of arms of Muttenz contains the lion of Katharina of Löwenburg, the wife of Konrad Münch, 1324-78.
  • 1983 Muttenz is granted the Wakker award for preserving the village centre surrounding the fortified Arbogast church.
  • Today (2020), Muttenz counts about 17’000 inhabitants. 




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!


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. 


Albert Jöger, «Altendorf SZ, Pfarrkirche und Kapellen», Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte, Bern 1983



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; 

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

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 (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 (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. 



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