Delémont – more reminiscences of the bishops and a look at the museum

In April 2022, I discovered charming Delémont:

  • the welcoming atmosphere with enticing shops, a small market, traditional restaurants, all mirrored in Renaissance fountains,
  • the medieval city centre with reminiscences of the Prince-Bishopric of Basel, 
  • the jurassic museum (Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire), curated with a twinkle in the eye. 

After having presented my first impressions of the welcoming atmosphere of Delémont and the Renaissance fountains, I will turn to some more reminiscences of the Prince-Bishops and to the jurassic museum. 

Have you noticed this coat of arms with the lions and the bishop’s crooks at the castle of Delémont? What does it tell us? 

It tells us who built this castle – see below…

 

Recapitulation: The map of the city centre of Delémont

This is the map of the medieval city centre of Delémont with some of its main sights.

Source: SwissMobile with my own additions

 

The château (castle) of Delémont was the summer residence of the Prince-Bishops; it is now a school

Delémont was the summer residence of the Prince-Bishops, and they lived in their castle here.

Prince-Bishop Johann Konrad II von Reinach-Hirtzbach (1705-1737) reconstructed the castle of Delémont in Baroque style (1716-1721). 

His coat of arms confirms that above the entry gate…

… and also inside the castle.

The Prince-Bishop tells us: “I am Johann Konrad von Reinach-Hirtzbach, and I have constructed this castle.”

His lions appear on some border stones marking the Prince-Bishopric of Basel.

I have come across this border stone above Ettingen (Prince-Bishopric of Basel) at the border to Hofstetten (canton of Solothurn).

Interesting to see this plastered Turk inside – the orient was a dream destination at that time, even for the catholic Prince-Bishop.

The castle is now a school. The inventive caretaker has craft skills. This is how he avoids that scooters lie around in the corridors.

In addition, he installed a self-service “lost-property office” for “objets trouvés” meaning “items found”, such as keys, caps, shoes or T-shirts. 

From the castle terrace, there is a gorgeous view of the mini Versailles garden (now very sober) and of the Jura hills surrounding Delémont.

The coat of arms of Delémont shows the hills of the Jura, just below the white bishop’s crook.

 

The church Saint Marcel – neoclassical

The church Saint Marcel was built in Neoclassical style (1762-67), under Prince-Bishop Simon-Nicolas de Monjoie-Hirsingue.

I will have to return to find his coat of arms in the church. Like other prince-bishops, Monjoie has marked his borders, for example, in the forest on the Bruderholz, between Bottmingen (then city of Basel) and Oberwil (Prince-Bishopric of Basel). 

Look for this coat of arms in the church Saint Marcel; it shows two keys and two bishop’s crooks.

The belfry, added later (1850) is slightly slanting and is called “Delémont’s leaning tower of Pisa”. 

Or should we rather say “Pisa’s leaning tower of Delémont”?

Just across the church, some tomb slabs have been reused for the sidewalk. 

Very sustainable construction.

 

The hospital that has never been a hospital

Prince-Bishop Wilhelm Jakob Rinck von Baldenstein (1693-1705) built this hospital. 

According to his opinion, it resulted to luxurious to be just a hospital. The city of Delémont gave the building to the Ursuline nuns to open a school for girls.

The hospital has never been a hospital, though the address is “Rue de l’Hôpital”.  

It is here, where the fountain with Saint Henry stands (emperor Henry II) (see the former blog about the fountains).

 

Chapelle Saint Michel in the cemetery of Delémont

Just above the Place de l’Étang, I find the chapel of Saint Michel, built in 1614, in late Gothic style mixed with Renaissance. 

It has been constructed under Prince-Bishop Wilhelm Rinck von Baldenstein (1608-1628, perhaps we can find his coat of arms here…).

Inside, the atmosphere is sober, the main decoration being the baroque altar of 1618.

 

The Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire – it is well worth a visit

The Burgenfreunde organised a short guided visit to the Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire. 

The museum has been curated with a twinkle in the eye. When the managers renovated their museum, they hired a historian, a cartoonist and a photographer and carefully rearranged the exhibits around the seven main clichés that the Jura is known for, such as “au bout du monde” (at the “end of the world”),…

Source: Claude Hauser, p. 38

… “La Tête de Moine” (the cheese from the monastery of Bellelay; alluding to the history of the catholic church and the prince-bishops),…

… “Jurassique: identités sous-sol” (Jurassic: identities under the ground referring to the geological era called “Jura”)…

… or l’heure de la décolleteuse” (hinting at the turning machines and the industrialization in the Jura canton; watches, knives “Wenger”, and even my favourite chocolate bars Ragusa are from the Jura).

Not to forget the fight of the Jura to become a canton of its own, symbolized with this new “number plate” replacing the old ones from Bern.

“79 BE” (for a bicycle) and “0000” (somewhat for a car)- two more twinkles! 

Now the Jura is a canton of its own. Until about 1800, the Jura belonged to the Prince-Bishopric of Basel. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna added it to the canton of Bern. In 1978, the Swiss citizens voted and approved the new canton Jura, making the “BE79” number plates for bicycles obsolete. 

The museum displays pieces of identity of the youngest canton of Switzerland, one of them being the fruit brandy Damassine. 

Did you know that Damasson rouge is a plum that only grows in the Jura (and adjacent France)? It makes an excellent fruit brandy! Last December, I tasted it at Saignelégier (also part of the canton Jura) after a long and chilly day of cross country skiing in the Franches Montagnes. It did warm me up and helped digest the excellent dinner we had at our hotel. 

 

I will surely visit Delémont and the museum again

The Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire is worth a visit. I intend to explore it in more detail. Furthermore, I would like to look for more coats of arms that the prince-bishops left and for more wild men holding the coats of arms of Delémont. 

And, furthermore, just enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of the charming city of Delémont. I was here for the first time, but surely not for the last time. 

 

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Delémont – wild men and Renaissance fountains

In April 2022, I discovered charming Delémont:

  • the welcoming atmosphere with enticing shops, a small market, traditional restaurants, all mirrored in Renaissance fountains,
  • the medieval city centre with reminiscences of the prince-bishopric of Basel, 
  • the jurassic museum (Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire), curated with a twinkle in the eye. 

After having presented my first impressions of the welcoming atmosphere of Delémont, I will now tell you about wild men and the Renaissance fountains at Delémont.

Have you noticed the coat of arms of Prince-Bishop Jakob Christoph Blarer von Wartensee (1575-1608) on the Renaissance fountains?

Let us explore, why the coat of arms appears here. 

 

Orientation first: The medieval city centre

The medieval city centre of Delémont is located on a hill above the Sorne, within the red rectangle on the map below. I have marked some of the main sights such as the Museum, the Town Hall or the Castle (Château). 

Source: SchweizMobil (online), my own additions of some sights

Let us look for wild men and Renaissance fountains in the medieval city centre.

 

Wild men hold the coat of arms of Delémont showing the bishop’s crook above the hills around Delémont

In medieval times, the city was surrounded by a wall with four towers, only two of which are left.

The first gate is the Porte au Loup that we have already seen, when entering the city. Named after Monsieur Loup who lived here 700 years ago.

The second gate is the Porte de Porrentruy, also called Porte Monsieur. “Monsieur” Prince-Bishop used to enter the city here to get to his summer castle.

On both gates, two wild men are holding the coat of arms of Delémont. 

This is the coat of arms above the entry of the Porte au Loup.

The coat of arms shows the bishop’s crook above the Jura hills around Delémont, white on red background. Actually the name “Delémont” alludes to mountains (“mont”). 

I came across more wild men holding the coat of arms of the city. One pair of them is above the entry to the town hall.

Another wild man decorates the Renaissance fountain in front of the Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire. Also this wild man holds the coat of arms of Delémont. 

It was Prince-Bishop Jakob Christoph Blarer von Wartensee who had the wild man crafted in 1576, one year after his election. 

There must be more wild men (“sauvages”) at Delémont: The treasure hunting app Drallo motivates children to find all of them and to redeem the premium at the Croisée des Loisirs (near the train station). 

Googling, I learn that “wild people” (Wildleute, either men or women) were popular supporters for coats of arms (see for instance Roger Rebmann’s altbasel.ch).

 

Prince-Bishop Jakob Christoph Blarer von Wartensee was the “reconquistador”

Prince-Bishop Jakob Christoph Blarer von Wartensee (1575-1608) marked a turning point for the Prince-Bishopric of Basel.

The Prince-Bishopric was on the decline after 1529, when Basel had become a protestant city, and the bishop had to leave Basel. Then, the Prince-Bishopric had lost some villages to Basel; they had become protestant. Blarer von Wartensee successfully recovered lost ground regaining some of the protestant villages, such as Therwil or Oberwil. 

For the Prince-Bishopric, he was an excellent leader, he was somewhat the “reconquistador”. In the Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire, Pitch Comment summarizes his achievements as “Reconquista”. 

Source: My photo taken at the museum

“Reconquista” refers to the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula by the catholic church, completed by the royal couple Isabella and Ferdinand a hundred years earlier.

Delémont was the summer residence of the Prince-Bishops, and Blarer von Wartensee decorated it with a series of Renaissance fountains, one of them being the fountain of the “wild man” mentioned above. Let us look at more of his fountains.

 

The fountain of Maria

The fountain of Maria decorates the town hall. 

Difficult to take a photo of Maria between  the tree and the town hall (town hall built in 1740). 

Maria was sculptured by Hans Michel in 1583. Maria replaced the wild man of 1576 that stood here before. The wild man was relocated to the Porte de Porrentruy, where we have seen it.

I have come across the sculptor, Hans Michel, before: Another of his works is the statue of Munatius Plancus that he created for the city of Basel (see below). 

Prince-Bishop Blarer von Wartensee could not do without leaving his marks; his coat of arms decorates the fountain of Maria. 

I know his cock from the castle of Porrentruy (where the Prince-Bishops settled, after having been chased from Basel, the cock is to the right of the bishop’s crook; see the photo on the site of Jura Toursime).

Furthermore, when hiking, I encountered the border stones of Blarer von Wartensee between Oberwil and Biel-Benken – this is one of them.

It also shows the cock, along with the bishop’s crook.

 

The fountain of the lion

Another Renaissance fountain presents the lion (1579). The lion holds the bishop’s crook. The cock of Prince-Bishop Blarer von Wartensee decorates also this shaft. 

Lions are another common supporter of coats of arms.

 

The fountain of Saint Maurice

The fountain of Saint Maurice was erected in 1577, also by Prince-Bishop Blarer von Wartensee.  

Have I not seen a very similar statue before? This Mauritius somewhat reminds me of Lucius Munatius Plancus in the courtyard of the Basel town hall… Pretty similar are the boots, the skirt and the coat. 

Yes, the tourism website of Delémont confirms my suspicions… Also Saint Maurice has been created by Hans Michel, like Munatius Plancus.

Mauritius and Munatius Plancus were Roman warriors. Munatius Plancus is said to have founded Augusta Raurica in 44 B.C. (not exactly true, but close, see my earlier blog), and Mauritius belonged to the legendary Theban Legion of the Romans, in the 3rd century A.D.. Though three centuries apart, they look about the same, except for the helmet: Munatius Plancus wears a solid helmet with a basilisk, and Mauritius wears a hat the shape of which reminds me of the pilgrimage hat of Saint James. It also seems to be that Mauritius does not wear leggings, whereby Munatius Plancus has pink leggings with golden laces.

Anyway: Roman warriors looked quite a bit different from these Renaissance incarnations created by Hans Michel. Nevertheless, I like both Renaissance statues. 

 

Fountain of Saint Henry

 Saint Henry decorates this fountain from the 19th century in front of the old hospital. The statue of Saint Henry is from 1596 (see “Chronologie jurassienne”).

Saint Henry is the emperor Henry II of the Roman Holy Empire of German Nation around 1000 A.D. Saint Henry or Henry II was canonized by the pope in 1146. He had the Cathedral of Basel constructed. At Delémont, Henry seems to present the model of the Basel Cathedral, though, in 1596, it belonged to the protestants, no longer to the catholic Prince-Bishopric. 

I have come across Henry II again and again: He and his wife Kunigunde decorate the façade of Cathedral of Basel (sculpture from 1290)…  

… and the altar of the dome of Arlesheim (painted by Appiani in 1759-61). In Arlesheim, Henry holds the “little sister” of the Cathedral of Basel, the beautiful Rococo dome of Arlesheim (built in 1679-81 and rebuilt in 1759-61, see my earlier blog about the dome).

Henry is the patron of the Prince-Bishopric of Basel and of the city of Basel; another Henry decorates the clock of the Basel town hall

In the next blog, I will continue with more reminiscences of the prince-bishopric of Basel and with the jurassic museum (Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire). 

 

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Delémont/Delsberg, the charming capital of the Jura

Delémont/Delsberg is the capital of the canton Jura. Founded in 1979, the Jura is the youngest canton of Switzerland. At Delémont, the friends of the castles of both Basel held their general assembly in April 2022. I decided to attend the assembly and benefit from the opportunity to visit Delémont..

So far I had never visited Delémont, except the train station (a terminal station, Sackbahnhof) and the ring road (to get to the Franches Montagnes for hiking or for cross country skiing).  Now, I discovered the charm of Delémont:

  • the welcoming atmosphere with enticing shops, a small market, traditional restaurants, all mirrored in Renaissance fountains,
  • the medieval city centre with reminiscences of the prince-bishopric of Basel, 
  • the jurassic museum (Musée Jurassien d’Art et d’Histoire), curated with a twinkle in the eye. 

I will start with my first impressions of the welcoming atmosphere of Delémont.

 

Delémont belongs to the French speaking part of Switzerland – more easy-going – parking is free of cost…

It is only a good half hour’s car trip from Basel to Delémont.

Along the town wall, I find lots of parking spaces and a parking meter. I enter four francs. The meter accepts the first three francs and rejects my fourth franc. The meter does not accept more coins nor does it return the coins already entered. Why? – Ah, three francs is the maximum I can pay, which allows me to stay here for four hours (or was it three hours?); not enough to attend the assembly and the visits planned by the Burgenfreunde.

I take my car and drive to Place de l’Étang nearby that has a large parking space. The gate is open and the parking meter is out of service. I leave my car here; now I am in the French speaking part of Switzerland, where life is somewhat more easy-going, where parking meters may work or not, where parking may cost some coins or not… today it is free, unexpectedly. I am happy to have contributed three francs to the city before.

 

Delémont remembers Mr. Loup from the 14th century

I enter the city centre from the north, through the “Wolf’s Gate” or Porte au Loup

No, this was not the gate “for” the wolfs. It is named after Monsieur Loup:  Rouelin Loup owned the neighbouring house in 1392. Enough reason, to call the city gate “Porte au Loup”, still today, some 700 years later.

Above the gate, two wild men are holding the coat of arms of Delémont. It shows the bishop’s crook above the mountains of the Jura (see heraldry of the world). 

We will see more of these wild men later; they are called “sauvages” in French.

 

A charming small market in the Rue de l’Hôpital

A small market is going on. A Tibetan stand sells a choice of steamed dumplings. Enticing, but I cannot buy dumplings now. The assembly might not like the smell. 

Another stand sells food from Tunisia, praised by the owner with enthusiasm. Delémont seems to be an international place.

The market stretches along the Rue de l’Hôpital. 

I stand in front of the Fontaine de la Boule, the “ball fountain”, a Renaissance fountain from 1596. “Boule” (ball or globe) describes it well. 

The houses reflect in the water of this fountain.

 

Spring flowers bring colour to the streets

I stroll through the streets and enjoy the flowers decorating them, such as these tulips in la Rue de la Grange (Barn Street)…

… and these daffodils in the Rue du Fer (Iron Street).

 

Inviting places for shopping and reading

Nathalie sells wool behind her nicely decorated window. I believe, all the charming shops selling just wool have disappeared in Basel, unfortunately.

I come across the Bibliothèque des Jeunes (library for the young). Inside, children are reading books.

I frown a bit at the “Pharmacie du Tilleul”. “Tilleul” means “lime blossom”. This pharmacy seems to sell a choice of rather “soft” medicine.

Well, may be, they make a careful selection of medicine, considering traditional knowledge about plants as well.

 

Delémont – multilingual

This restaurant is multilingual mixing German, French and English. 

As a matter of fact, in 1880 the percentage of German speaking inhabitants was about 45%, and now it is down to 3% (see Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz). The once bilingual town still announces its “Weinhandlung”, which is a coffee bar today, the “Café d’Espagne”. 

We have dinner at the Restaurant de la Croix Blanche. The atmosphere is cosy, the walls are painted. 

This painting with the coat of arms of the young canton Jura has been made after 1979. The restaurant owner tells me that they have enlarged the restaurant; the paintings in the front part are older than the ones at the  back. We enjoy a lovely meal; the portions of the menu are enormously large – and good.

Yes, Delémont has a welcoming atmosphere with enticing shops, a small market, traditional restaurants, all mirrored in Renaissance fountains. 

Let us discover details of the medieval city centre with the traces of the Prince-Bishops in the following blog.  

 

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Around Basel: Augusta Raurica from the craft house to the temple of Grienmatt

So far we have explored the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, first its history and the city centre. Then we moved on to more “remote sights” and investigated the Roman Castrum and the show room under the church at Kaiseraugst.

Now, we visit the other more “remote” sights of Augusta Raurica, including the animal park.

On the plan of the Roman remains, our next destinations are: 10 (craft house), 14-17 (brick manufacture, town wall, tomb, east gate, animal park), 18 (cloaca and cellar), 12 (outer amphitheatre) and 11 (Grienmatt temple). Further remains of the town wall can be seen south of (12) crossing the motorway.  

 

Source: Tourism map on homepage of Augusta Raurica

 

The craft house complex (Gewerbehaus, 10)

Next to the noisy main road (Kantonsstrasse), the ruins of three houses have been preserved, one being a former fullery (Tuchwalkerei) and one a former restaurant. Panels make the ruins come to life. This is what the craft house complex might have looked like in Roman times…

… and these are some of the ruins that remained from the restaurant.

The craft house complex was bordering the old Roman road connecting Rhaetia with Gaul. I start to dream of the passers-by that entered the restaurant here to have a beer (“cervisia” in Latin) and a meal.  

 

The brick manufacture (Ziegelei, 17)

Ruins of a brick manufacture are in the residential area Liebrüti.

The Romans used baked clay for tiles and bricks. They were particularly useful for their heating installations. The Romans had standardized the production, as the explanatory panel explains.

The factory is closed. I look at the ruins through the mirroring glass.

 

The tomb (Grabmonument, 15)  

A few meters south from Liebrüti is the area with the tomb (15), the east gate (14) and the animal park (16).

These are the remains of the tomb.

As the panel explains, the tomb monument was round, about 5m high and covered, a bit like a tea kettle.

Next to the tomb I admire, how the Romans built their bridges. Some sandstone building blocks are on display.

Again, everything is documented carefully to bring the ruins to life.  

 

The east gate (Osttor, 14)

This is what the east gate once looked like. Constructing the defensive wall around Augusta Raurica had started in the late first century AD, but the walls had never been completed. Even the east gate was not really a gate, but just two towers.

This is one of the two towers.

 

South of the residential area Liebrüti and close to the brick factory, part of the eastern fortification wall has been preserved.

South of the amphitheatre (12) the motorway cuts through the town wall. On the southern bank of the motorway, one part of the fortification wall has been carefully marked, just in front of a traffic sign.  

 

I have to admit, it took me some time to identify the wall across the scrubs. Furthermore I have to admit that I must have passed by this historical monument hundreds of times in my car without noticing it. Again I am impressed, how well marked it is and how well explained it is on the panel that I now discovered on the way to the outer amphitheatre.

 

The animal park (14)

Near the east gate, the small animal park must be the kids favourite. It is a collection of ProSpecieRara animals that allude to the animals the Romans once had. The black pigs love the warm sun.

The geese walk around their pond, chattering at me. The Romans valued them much, because their chattering once saved Rome (387 B.C., when Celts tried to conquer the Capitoline Hill, the geese chattered and warned the citizens of Rome).

There are some Roux du Valais, a species of sheep that was saved from extinction thanks to ProSpecieRara. They look at me from behind the fence. 

 

The peacock seems to have a nap. Pretty complicated to lie down with all these feathers.

I have visited this charming small animal park so many times. I have watched the kids admire the animals so many times. And only recently, I have discovered the pink panel that explains the origins and the use of the animals. For instance, rich Romans held a peacock in their garden, because it is a beautiful animal. They also liked to eat the meat and used the feathers as a fan or as decoration.

 

Yes, every time I return to Augusta Raurica, I discover something that I have not taken notice of so far. The archaeologists have done an encompassing job of documenting it all.

I meet the guardian looking after the animals. I ask him, whether he is an archaeologist that also looks after the animals (perhaps it is his hobby), and he answers: “No, no, there also “normal” people working for the Augusta Raurica Foundation, not only archaeologists.” Nice.

 

Water channel (cloaca) and cellar(18)

These panels in the middle of the open field point to the water channel (cloaca) and to the cellar under the former Roman baths in the upper city centre. In the background we see the modern residential area Liebrüti.

Not much is visible from the central baths built in the 1st century AD, only the channel that drained the water from the baths. The floor is made from sandstone and the walls are covered with limestone, as the panel explains.

The cellar under the former baths belonged to a house that was here, before the baths were built. The niches were used to place goods.

 

History Path

Not far from the water channel and the cellar, I reach the Roman history path. I enter through the gate…

… and see a long, long path, lined with more than 30 panels laid out along a time line. The panels explain, how Augusta Raurica evolved as part of the Roman empire. 

To study the panels will be the focus of another visit. 

 

“New” amphitheatre outside of the city (12)

From the history path, it is not far to the amphitheatre that was built outside of the city centre of Augusta Raurica in the 2nd century AD.

There is a picnic place here – the archaeologists think beyond archaeology. I do not know of many amphitheatres with picnic places – this is unique. I took this photo on a sunny November day; I liked to observe the families with kids enjoying their barbecued sausages amidst the ancient ruins.

 

Temple Grienmatt (11)

My last stop today is the “Temple Grienmatt”. Well, “Grienmatt” is not the Roman name. “Grienmatt” can be translated to “pebble meadow”, as “Grien” means “pebbles” in Swiss German.

The panel says that it is difficult to interpret this temple. It seems that the cows do not notice, how reputable their environment is.  

 

Thank you, Munatius Plancus, for having founded Augusta Raurica, and thank you, Augusta Raurica Foundation and archaeologists, for telling us about it

I now have looked at Augusta Raurica in five blogs:

I have to thank you, Lucius Munatius Plancus, for having founded Augusta Raurica (even, if it is not completely sure that you have founded it and even, if Roman warriors do not really wear pink leggings with golden laces, as presented in the city hall of Basel…).

Furthermore I thank all the members working for the Augusta Raurica Foundation that have made the ancient ruins come to life, carefully preserving them, documenting them, making them accessible to visitors, and – making them fun for visitors by setting up picnic places and organizing events for families, for children and for all those that are interested in our Roman ancestors. Not to forget the guardians that care for the animals in the small animal park which is certainly a kids favourite.

 

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Kaiseraugst again – the show room under the church St. Gallus

Whenever I return to Augusta Raurica, I find something that is new to  me. Recently I have discovered the Roman sewage channel and the nearby the show room under the Church St. Gallus.

It was by looking at the brochure about treasure hunting for children, that I found out about the Roman sewage channel. 

Source: “Finde den Schatz – Schnitzeljagd im Kastell Kaiseraugst”, brochure for children acquired in the museum of Augusta Raurica

When I visited the sewage channel in June 2021, I also found the entry to the show room with the bath and rests of the church from late antiquity.

 

The Roman sewage channel

The sewage channel emerges from the fortification wall above the Rhine river, near the church.

Berger (p. 335) and the panels say that the sewage channel was built for the Roman Castrum in the late 3rd century AD.

In Roman times, the smell might not have been too welcoming  here.

Steps invite visitors. To the left of the sewage channel exit, I see a door. I enter and I am in the show room under the church and under the adjacent church garden.

 

Overview of the show room with bath and remains from early Christianity

On my first visit, I saw just ruins and heard Roman street noise and some church music. I returned later, after having read in Berger (p. 335ff). The following two on site panels help me understand best, what I see: The ground plan shows the area of the show room in faint pink, and the upright projection gives a perspective view of the ruins in front of the “reconstructed” model of the early Christian church from around 400 AD (late antiquity).  

Source: Two panels in the show room (it is amazing, how everything is documented carefully, take your time to go through it).

In the show room we see the private bath (black/red 1-4 and a,b,c) and remains related with the early Christian church St. Gallus and with Christianity (dark blue, 5,6, X; we do not see 7). The sewage channel (purple, 8) runs through the show room, before reaching the exit in the fortification wall.

 

The bath – the private bath of the bishop?

Why a bath, so close to the church? The panels explain that the bath has been built after 400 AD, when “normal” people could no longer afford a private bath. Perhaps it was the bath of the bishop and of the clergymen (see panel in the show room). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the early Christian church St. Gallus from the late 4th century AD was large and hence important. If there was a bishop, he would have lived behind the fortification wall on the right hand (western) side of his bath. However, though some sources mention bishop Justinian around 400 AD, the first proven bishop is Ragnacharius around 600 AD (Facciani, p.173 and 178f); it might well be that he moved his seat from the Castrum to Basel. A lot of guessing. What seems pretty sure is that the pool (c) in the bath was not a baptismal font, as some archaeologists suggested earlier. Facciani rejects the hypothesis of a baptismal font based on plausible arguments (Berger, p.337f). For instance, there is no direct access from the church to the font, very impractical. 

This is room number 4. According to the panels it was a corridor; Berger (p.337) says, it could also have been the changing room of the bath, called Apodyterium.

In the corner we can see the sewage water channel (8).

From the corridor (4) people entered the Tepidarium (warm room, 1) using the door marked by the black gate; the threshold (a) has been preserved. Very difficult for me to see the threshold, but I trust the archaeologists.

Next comes the Caldarium or hot room (2). Two columns and tubes of the floor heating remain in the right hand edge. As a matter of fact, we stand on the base of the floor heating today; the “real” floor was above the pile of tiles (pilae). 

I am puzzled. Only now I notice the labels under the ceiling. So far, I had just looked at the ruins below me and not at the signs above me… 

As the label indicates, we see a wonderfully preserved duct (b) that takes heat from the heating room (Praefurnium) into the hot room (2). I stand, where the heating room must have been before. 

Behind the hot room (2) and the heating conduct (b), there is the water tank or pool (c). There have been debates about this pool that in the 1960-ies was identified as a baptismal font, but this hypothesis was rejected by Facciani later. 

 

The remains related with the early Christian church

The use of the site as an early Christian church started at the latest after 400 (as the panels say).

This is the northern annex to the apsis of the early Christian church (5). The sewage water channel (8) can be seen here as well. 

Part of the marl ground of the annex has been preserved (see above in the left hand lower corner and below).

From 700 AD onwards, people were buried next to the church. A grave from the 8th/9th century reaches into the show room.

Only now I notice the description on the left hand side. The curators of Augusta Raurica think of everything carefully.

 

The exhibition on the east wall of the bath (X)

The exhibition on the east wall of the show room explains the early days of Christianity, shows examples of tomb slabs from the necropolis outside the castrum and tools as well as jewellery from early Christianity.

A Christian community existed in the Castrum already in the 4th century AD (The Roman emperor Konstantin had legalised Christianity in 313 AD). Until about 700 AD, the people were buried in the necropolis outside the city. This is one example of a tomb slab from the 7th century, with a cross engraved.

The combined tooth picker and ear spoon with the sign for Christ belonged to a Roman officer (about 350 AD, part of the silver treasure of Augusta Raurica). I imagine him using this tool…

 

Good-bye Castrum for now

I leave the show room through the door, where the Rhine appears full of water after the heavy rain falls of this summer 2021. 

I feel like reading in Berger about what I have seen. I find a table in the restaurant Adler in the main street of Kaiseraugst. 

The crowned eagle of the Habsburgians decorates the entry, as Kaiseraugst has belonged to Vorderösterreich until the Congress of Vienna (1815).

The meal served at the restaurant Adler is delicious: Risotto with Taleggio cheese and pears and a Greek yoghurt with nuts, figs and honey. Sure, I will return to this restaurant and also to Kaiseraugst and the Castrum.   

We will visit more “remote” sights of Augusta Raurica in my next blog.

Sources:

  • Website of Augusta Raurica
  • “Salve – Plan”, Augusta Raurica 2019.
  • Guido Facciani et alii: “Die Dorfkirche St. Gallus in Kaiseraugst. Die bauliche Entwicklung vom römischen Profangebäude zur heutigen christkatholischen Gemeindekirche”, Forschungen in Augst, Band 42, Augst 2012.
  • Ludwig Berger (Editor), “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012; contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Ammann, Ludwig Berger und Peter-A. Schwarz, Urs Brombach
  • Panels on site in the show room

Around Basel: Augusta Raurica – Castrum or Kaiseraugst – first visits

Kaiseraugst near the Rhine is, where the Roman Castrum Rauracense was established around 300 AD. The people retreated here to withstand the growing attacks of the Germanic tribes from the north. In the charming village centre of Kaiseraugst, we find remains of the Castrum and of late antiquity.

 

A look at the map to see, where the Castrum is

This is the map of Augusta Raurica, “our” Roman city, with the centre and the more “remote” sights, amongst them Kaiseraugst or the Castrum.  

 

Source: Tourism map on homepage of Augusta Raurica

The brown line shows the whole city of Augusta Raurica, with the centre (numbers 1-7, e.g. forum, theatre, museum) and the more “remote” sights Kaiseraugst (19-21, baths, castrum wall and church), 10 (craft house), 14-17 (brick manufacture, tomb, east gate, animal park), 18 (cloaca and cellar), 12 (outer amphitheatre) and 11 (Grienmatt temple).

After having looked at the history and legends around Augusta Raurica and after having visited the centre of the Roman city, we next look at Kaiseraugst with the Castrum near the Rhine, leaving other more remote sights for later.

 

Mouth of the Ergolz, the river that marks the border between the cantons Aargau and Baselland  

After about an hour of cycling from my home, I arrive near the mouth of the river Ergolz. Well, I do not intend to continue to Rotterdam or Nantes, as Eurovelo proposes. Let us start our tour around Kaiseraugst here.

When I am here for the first time, it is November 2020. The school boat is practicing on the Ergolz and on the Rhine.

At this place, the Ergolz is the border between the cantons Baselland (to the west, village Augst) and Aargau (to the east, village Kaiseraugst).

This is the view of the power station in the Rhine; left, the Ergolz flows into the Rhine, and I stand under the golden leaves of an “Argovian” oak tree.

Now I have zoomed in the power station.

The buildings of the power station are in Germany. It is possible to cross the dam to Germany, on foot or by bike. 

The book edited by Berger contains a map that shows three Roman bridges, one of them above the modern power station. Two more bridges crossed the Rhine, where Kaiseraugst is located today.  

I walk through the park along the Rhine. Now, in November, it is in hibernation, the benches are being overhauled. This bench says: “I am under renovation and will appear shining all new in two months time.”

Also the swimming pool near the camping site is awaiting the next summer.

Where the park ends, I start my round tour to the Roman past. The Roman sights are well marked.

I have to follow the column with the brown arrow to discover the Roman Castrum.

 

Part of the defensive Castrum walls has been preserved (see map #19)

The western defensive walls of the Roman fortress or Castrum have been preserved. 

We can see the layout of the Roman western gate on the pavement. The main street of the modern village centre of Kaiseraugst starts here, and this was also the main street of the Castrum.

The panel provided by the Augusta Raurica Foundation shows, what the Castrum might have looked like with the western gate (left) and the surrounding wall and ditch. 

The Thermae or Rhine Baths are highlighted on this panel.

 

Thermae or the Rhine Baths, where the Romans met (20)

What looks like the entrance to an underground garage behind the community centre is the access to the Rhine Baths (Thermae). 

Under the ground, the bath rooms have been preserved, some cold, some warm, and one hot. I stand on the base of the floor heating (hypocaust). We cannot see the heated “real” floor, where the Romans walked. It has disappeared.

The panels explain that in the warm or tepid rooms, the Romans would sit, chat, have light meals and play games. 

The vitrine explains that wooden sandals were needed to walk in the hot bath – here, the floor was hot!

I wonder, how well I would have seen my hair in this mirror to fix the hair pin. 

It is amazing, with how much care the baths have been set up to give the visitors a picture of Roman life. The access to this gem is free.

 

The village church St. Gallus (see map #21) – early residence of the bishop of Basel?

So far, I had never taken notice of the church St. Gallus at Kaiseraugst. Now I discover it with Guido Facciani. On the cover page of his document, he shows, how the building evolved from Roman times until today. In Roman times, it was a profane building, then it became a meeting hall with an apse that, probably in the 4th century, was remodelled to become the first church (Facciani, p. 149/173). I always admire, how archaeologists can read ruins. 

Some say that the church St. Gallus was the seat of the bishopric “Raurica”. However the existence of the bishop mentioned for the 4th century, Justinian, cannot be confirmed (Facciani, p. 173). The first proven evidence of a bishop goes back to 600 AD: Sources mention Ragnacharius as the bishop of Augustudinae et Basiliae (Facciani, p. 178, Vita des Eustasius). Facciani suggests that Ragnacharius started his mandate at the Castrum Augusta Raurica/Kaiseraugst and then moved to Basel (Facciani, p.179).

Facciani found evidence of an early Romanic church built in the 10/11th century (Facciani, p.180). The church was rebuilt again in the 14th century (after the Basel earthquake, Facciani, p. 183). The tower has been preserved from that time.

In the 18th century, the church was renovated adding baroque elements (Facciani, p. 185). Is the “undulating” gable of the nave not almost too graceful above the bricks marking the edges of the nave and being so close to the tower from the 14th century?

By the way, the baroque façade is inclining towards the Rhine, as the ground is sinking here.

 

Why is Kaiseraugst called Kaiseraugst?

I had always wondered, why Kaiseraugst is “Kaiser”-Augst or “Imperial”-Augst. Perhaps due to the Roman emperors? No, it is due to the Habsburgians. They were emperors or “Kaiser” and they acquired Kaiseraugst in 1442 to become part of “Fore” Austria (Vorderösterreich). In the Congress of Vienna (1815), Kaiseraugst became part of the canton Aargau and Switzerland. Across the Ergolz is “plain” Augst that had been acquired by Basel and now belongs to the canton Baselland.  

 

Fortification to protect the bridge (22)

I am back in June 2021. The ferry across the river Rhine runs. In his work life, the captain headed cargo ships between Basel and Rotterdam. Now retired, he still works on the river Rhine managing and running the ferry of Kaiseraugst. He even offers Fondue evenings on his boat. Very creative. I might consider that.

We enter the ferry and ride to the German side of the Rhine, where the Romans had built this fortification to protect their bridges across the Rhine. 

Remains of the three northern towers (inland) can still be seen, the territory above the Rhine collapsed.

A signpost guides us to the remains of the fortification called “Römischer Brückenkopf”.

We follow the small path and find the three towers amidst trees and bushes. This is one of them.

Through the trees, we can see Kaiseraugst and the Saint Gallus church. Storks are breeding in the nest on the church tower.

Having returned to the Swiss side, we admire the white swans that do not take any notice of us.

They are cleaning their feathers, how beautiful. 

Let us return to Kaiseraugst to visit the show room between the church St. Gallus and the Rhine in the next blog. 

Sources:

  • Website of Augusta Raurica
  • “Salve – Plan”, Augusta Raurica 2019.
  • Guido Facciani et alii: “Die Dorfkirche St. Gallus in Kaiseraugst. Die bauliche Entwicklung vom römischen Profangebäude zur heutigen christkatholischen Gemeindekirche”, Forschungen in Augst, Band 42, Augst 2012.
  • Ludwig Berger (Editor), “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012; contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Ammann, Ludwig Berger und Peter-A. Schwarz, Urs Brombach

Around Basel: The centre of the Roman city Augusta Raurica

After having looked at the foundation legend and history of Augusta Raurica, we now walk through the centre of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, and I will convey some of my personal impressions. I return regularly to Augst. For instance, I was here in November 2020, again in spring and once more in summer 2021. And I will soon return again.

 

The museum with the rich Roman treasure

This poster stands right near the central parking. It shows citizens in the 1960’s that hold silver plates in their hands.

“Do not miss it!” the panel says, “the largest silver treasure of the ancient world in the museum of Augusta Raurica.” I assure you, the silver treasure IS impressive. It is already amazing, how it was discovered! In the 1960’s, a digger accidentally uncovered the treasure, when preparing a field for construction, and the operator did not notice what he had uncovered. People from the village found the treasure later. Some kept their findings (that happens even in Switzerland) and some took them to the museum. Most of the stolen silver pieces were given to the museum later (this is nevertheless Switzerland). The archaeologists assume that in the 4th century AD, a Roman citizen, scared by the attacks of the Germans coming from the north, hid his silver treasure in a wooden box, which remained under the ground for about 1600 years, until the digger came in the 1960’s.

The treasure is on permanent display in the museum. I pick out two examples. This is the so called “Archilles platter” from 330-340 AD. 

The following platter shows a villa near the sea (330-350 AD). Whenever I visit the museum, I say hello to this finely engraved medallion showing the sumptuous villa and the fish in the sea with the people in the boats hunting them. In the middle, there is even an octopus.

In addition, the museum illustrates what a Roman atrium house looked like.

This is the dining table. 

The Romans used to eat lying around the table (called “accubare”). When lying, you can eat more than when sitting on a chair “compressing” the stomach. I am just not sure, how authentic the cane chair is… but I trust the curators of this museum.

In Ravenna, I found the Last Supper, where Jesus and the disciples eat the “Roman way” (photo taken by me in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo).

The atrium house conveys details of Roman life such as these bones with a wooden “booklet” explaining, how to play with them.

I came across such bone games in Mongolia in 2014. These were goat bones, we used for playing. In addition, the Mongolians use sheep bones for playing.

At the end of the atrium house tour, the coach illustrates how the Romans travelled. There are some places around Basel, where the prints of coach wheels can be seen on the Roman paths cut into rock (for instance above Flüh).  

Recently, the curators have added the black dog lying on the sack with the sausage in front of the nose. Whenever I return to this museum, I find some small detail added with much care. 

Just outside the museum, I notice an earthen plate with small stones. What is this? Has someone lost these stones? But – in a plate? 

I look around and, nearby, I discover this triangle, divided into numbered fields. 

Ah, here it is, the wooden booklet lays out the rules of the delta game, the Deltaspiel. You have to throw three stones in turn, and the winner is the one who achieves the highest sum of numbers.

At Augusta Raurica, children are welcome at all places! I do enjoy discovering such small details.

 

The theatre “of nine towers”, the temple “Schönbühl” and the taberna

The central theatre is the dominant place at Augusta Raurica, just next to the museum. To get a good view of the theatre, I usually climb the hill across called Schönbühl with the “Schönbühl” temple (well, “Schönbühl” is not the Roman name, but this is, what it is called today). Carefully the panels are set up to explain all the details about the theatre and the construction periods (see left hand side).  

The citizens of Augusta Raurica reconstructed their theatre a third time around 200 AD. It was a scenic theatre and accommodated for 10-12’000 spectators. The constructors of the theatre made use of the slope across the Schönbühl hill. The sidewalls rounding off the spectator area (cavea) were open in the  middle – the archaeologists are quite sure of this and assume that the theatre and the “Schönbühl” temple were connected such that spectators could watch temple services from the theatre (Berger, p. 113).

When I return mid July 2021, red flags decorate the place. The summer program is on, until mid-August. The footboard in the foreground indicates that some parents show Augusta Raurica to their young son or daughter, and they may now be visiting the temple behind us. They are not alone, many families walk around Augusta Raurica, especially during the summer school holidays.

Having climbed the spectator area (cavea) of the theatre we look across the Sichelen valley to the Schönbühl hill and the “Schönbühl” temple.

Just across the theatre is the taberna with the oven. Berger, p. 226, says, that a family house was planned here. The owner and the foundation of Augusta Raurica agreed swap of territories to preserve the taberna with the oven and make it publicly accessible. The oven is from the mid-3rd century AD. Though the place has been named “taberna” or “restaurant”, the excavators believe, it was rather a private house with a workshop that perhaps sold food as a side business (Berger, p. 230). 

 

Around the forum, the main square

The beginning of the forum “meadow” has been marked by this wooden construction. Perhaps this is , where the forum temple was. A stork nest has recently been added under the middle arch (another nice detail new to me). 

It is difficult to imagine this meadow to be the main forum. Berger, p.46, gives me an idea: The western part was the sacred area with the temple, while, at the opposite end, the public area was closed up by the basilica and the curia (the latter looks like an apsis). Bordering the forum are various insulae or blocks of houses, laid out as rectangular as the hill allows. In the background, the theatre and the “Schönbühl” temple can be seen; due to the topography, the ensemble does not form a straight line as in other Roman cities. 

The victory column must have formed the south east corner of the so called insula 9 (block of houses bordering the sacred area to the right of the forum). Victoria carries the globe on her head. This column is a copy of the original (Berger, p.9). 

On the forum, the July/August summer activities have been installed with much care and taking into regard the hygienic requirements of the Covid pandemic, however, with some eye twinkling. “Desinfectus hygiena” is understood by everybody, no knowledge of Latin required. 

From the forum, parts of the curia have been preserved and partially restored. “Roman puppets” stand around and by looking into binoculars, you can see them in the forum, as it was about 2000 years ago.

Next to the curia I discover some cupboards that hold games for children from 10 to 14 years. The kids are invited to accompany poor boy Nobilianus who is ill and needs distraction. In various languages, among them in English. 

Under the curia, there is a cellar with mosaics. Many of them are currently being restored, amongst them also my favourite one (my photo from 2013).

It is the so-called “Gladiatorenmosaik” that shows a fish pond which is fed by the water game in the jug, as the panel explains. One of the jug handles has been repaired somewhat oddly.

During the current “summer activities”, the cellar has become a workshop for people and children who want to create their own mosaics. Children will never feel bored at Augusta Raurica.

What always impresses me is the elaborated floor heating system of the Romans, the hypocaust. Behind the forum in the slopes of the Viola valley, such a hypocaust has been preserved.  Presumably, it once heated a dining room of 9.5mx6.6m (panel on site and Berger, p. 231).

The raw material for the heating was wood charcoal; the fire was made in the praefurnium or heating room. Hot air circulated in the space under the floor between the columns (pilae). It was like an underground tiled stove, as Berger, p. 232, writes. 

The heating was discovered in 1941, when tank traps were installed here. Surprises await everywhere in Augst.

 

Baths at the Violenried 

In fact discovering parts of Augusta Raurica sounds like a detective story to me. Anyone who owns land here is bound to find remains of the Roman city, when digging up the earth.

The enterprise E. Frey AG runs a quarry at Augst. The eastern part of the Kastelen hill (one third of the hill) has disappeared; on the hill, there was an area of insulae (blocks of houses) that were probably more upscale. When E. Frey AG intended to move away more ground, it soon became clear that they are about to destroy the baths of the Viola valley (Violenried) and a well preserved groundwater well with the underground well-house. The community of Augst agreed to swap territory with E. Frey AG, and now this area is open to the public. The signpost directs visitors to the underground well-house. 

The photo below shows the baths area in the year 2000, as presented by Berger, p. 160. The round groundwater well (Sodbrunnen in German) can be seen in the middle of the photo. You access the underground well-house using the comfortable stairs at the bottom of the photo. A bubbling noise welcomes you in the well-house. The curators make it all clear to us the well-house has to do with water. One of the theories is that this groundwater well provided the Viola bath with water (Berger, p. 161).

Reading more carefully, I learn that the areas marked by red marl above were heated by the hypocaust system. These were the tepid and hot water rooms of the Viola bath. There were two praefurniums or heating rooms here, a large one to the left of the warm bath rooms and a small one to the right of the oval shaped sudatorium (sweating room). The two other “grey” rooms next to the sudatorium have served some economic purposes, as the archaeologists assume. These two “grey” rooms are above the dark and narrow tunnel that gives access to the underground well-house under the fountain. 

The entry area to the Viola bath was behind the thin wall on the left hand side of the photo above. In addition, there were some blocks of houses behind this thin wall.

On the thin wall, a digitised reconstruction painting has been installed that illustrates life behind this wall (Berger, p. 160). I took the photo of the painting from the gallery across.

On the painting illustrating life behind the wall, a man is being massaged in the cold water room. People change clothes in the middle. One man has gone down the steps to have a cold bath in the piscina. To the left, life in the streets is presented: Roman citizens, children and animals.

In the foreground, we see the remains that have been preserved for the public. Behind the groundwater well (round shape), the hot rooms are marked by red marl. The oval shape sudatorium is sided by the small heating room to the left. The larger rooms to the left served some economic purposes. 

I must admit that only now, reading in the book edited by Berger and writing this blog, I understand that the underground well-house is exactly under that round fountain in the middle of the photo. I do not understand, why this was not clear to me before, but for us non-archaeologists it is difficult to interpret the Roman foundation walls in the open landscape.

This is the view of the round opening of the fountain from below, from the underground well-house.

According to Berger, p. 162, it is not clear, whether the Viola bath was a small public bath or a luxurious private bath belonging to a wealthy citizen. The larger main central bath area was farther south and has not been explored and preserved as thoroughly as the Viola bath. 

 

Good-bye for now

This advertisement of the summer activities at Augusta Raurica is a welcoming invitation: “Where do you go to? To Augst, of course”, mixing up Latin with German and Swiss German. The short Swiss German expression “dängg” can be translated by “where else do you think I am going to?” 

I will surely soon return to Augusta Raurica to check out some more details and to see, what has changed in the meantime. In addition, I will later publish my third blog about the sights that can be found more remotely around the centre of Augusta Raurica. 

 

Sources:

  • Explanation panels on site
  • Ludwig Berger, “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012, with contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Amman, Ludwig Berger, Peter-A. Schwarz and Urs Brombach
  • Website of Augusta Raurica

Around Basel – Augusta Raurica. Foundation legend and history

One of my favourite destinations near Basel is the Roman city Augusta Raurica. It is carefully restored and panels explain all the places of interest to make the Roman times revive. The homesite of Augusta Raurica gives an excellent overview of “our” Roman city and the activities provided to children and adults.

Let us explore Augusta Raurica in three blogs:

  • the foundation legend with Lucius Munatius Plancus and the history of the Roman city,
  • the city centre with the museum, the “inner” theatre with the temple Schönbühl and the forum,
  • the more “remote” sights from Kaiseraugst to the “outer” amphitheatre. 

 

The foundation legend with Lucius Munatius Plancus; it happened 2064 years ago 

It is said that Lucius Munatius Plancus is the “founder” of the city of Basel, well not precisely of Basel, but of nearby Augusta Raurica. Under Cesar, Munatius was a successful Roman army commander in Gaul. During the turmoils after Cesar’s assassination in 44 BC, he managed to keep his position in the noble society, even under the emperor Augustus. I believe that this sometimes required sitting on the fence. 

The inscription on the tomb of Munatius in Gaeta (Naples) says that he founded Augusta Raurica in 44 BC. In the 16th century, Munatius was reinterpreted to be the founder of Basel; his statue stands in the courtyard of the city hall of Basel.

Hans Michel from Strasbourg sculptured the statue of Munatius in 1580 and donated it. Around that time, the theatre in the centre of Augusta Raurica had been uncovered (Facciani, p.18), which might have motivated Michel from Strasbourg to create his Munatius. 

Let us compare Michel’s Munatius with the representation of the Roman warrior of the days of Cesar (“Res Romanae”, p. 46). 

Look at the shoes, the plaid and the helmet – not exactly the same. Furthermore, Munatius wears something like leggings, pink with golden laces. Very peculiar, and also not really an outfit typical of Romans.

To top it all, Hans Michel has decorated the helmet of Munatius with a basilisk. Basilisks already “existed” in Roman times (Plinius the Elder mentioned them), but the basilisk of Basel was born in the 15th century, when a cock laid an egg (well, this is also a legend). Ever since, basilisks have proudly carried the coat of arms of Basel, and they are present all over in Basel, for instance decorating fountains or, as we see, topping the helmet of Munatius (see my earlier blog about Basel and the basilisks).

It is unclear, whether Lucius Munatius Plancus founded Augusta Raurica or re-established the former Celtic settlement, where the centre of Basel is today (on the Münsterhügel, remains of the earlier Celtic oppidum have been uncovered). Furthermore construction work at Augusta Raurica started later than the reported date of foundation, not in 44 BC, but around 15 BC. Although Basel seems to be older than 2064 years, the legend continues to be told: Lucius Munatius Plancus is the founder of Basel, and that happened 2064 years ago.

Why 2064 years ago?

In 1957 or 64 years ago, Basel celebrated its 2000 years’ anniversary. Then I was 6 years old, and I remember, how proud I was of the long tradition of “my” city, when watching the parade. The mayor of Gaeta had come to Basel, as the tomb of Munatius Plancus is in Gaeta. The anniversary medal shows Lucius Munatius Plancus with the basilisk on his helmet – I found various such medals on sale on ebay.

Well today, we have to add 64 to 2000, which means, Munatius Plancus founded Basel 2064 years ago. Now, Basel would celebrate its 2064th anniversary. We have learnt that these 2064 years are not exactly a historical fact. Nevertheless, in 1956, Basel found 2000 years to  be a good opportunity to celebrate, and I do hope, we will have more such opportunities soon again. 

 

The history of Augusta Raurica: A thriving city for some 200 years and around 300 AD a fortress near the Rhine

After construction had started in 15 BC, Augusta Raurica became a thriving trading and commercial city with about 15’000 inhabitants. The border of the Roman empire was 200km north, far away from the border with the “dangerous” Germanic tribes. 

The model in front of the central Roman theatre shows, what the city looked like around 200 AD.

We can see the central theatre opposite of the temple of Schönbühl and, out of town, the “outer” amphitheatre. 

Hence, Augusta Raurica disposed of the usual amenities of a Roman city: Forum, theatres, baths and blocks of houses allowing to live and do commerce. The city decayed in the 3rd century AD, due to growing pressure from the north. To defend themselves, the Romans built the Castrum (fortress) bordering the Rhine, where Kaiseraugst is located today. 

Now, many ruins of the once flourishing city Augusta Raurica as well as of the later Castrum near the Rhine have been excavated and documented. 

Source: SALVE_Tourismusplan_2020.indd (augustaraurica.ch) 

It is the Foundation Pro Augusta Raurica that promotes the Roman heritage performing research, conservation, documentation and education. I am impressed, how well the ruins are presented and how well they are explained on the panels. Access is free, except for the museum. Signposts allow to find the places of interest. 

Let us walk around the centre of Augusta Raurica and visit the more remote sights around the centre in my next blogs. 

Sources:

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.  

 

Sources:

  • 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.