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.

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

Beginnings

  • 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. 

 

Sources:

 

Around Basel: The Cathedral of Arlesheim – harmonious Rococo

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

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

 

Why is there a Cathedral at Arlesheim? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and above the entry.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… of the Last Supper. 

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

 

The stucco decoration is in harmony with the frescoes

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

The stucco decoration gives airiness to the nave. 

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

… the ring of stars,…

… and this might be the tower of David.

 

Additional artefacts: Choir stalls, marble and Odilia

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

… the wooden entry door.

The small balcony is made out of marble from Italy. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two gems so close to one another!

Sources:

Around Basel: The Rheintalflexur – some background information and observations

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

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

 

Gathering information about the geology of the Rheintalflexur 

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

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

 

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

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

Source: Hans Laubscher, 1971

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

Source: Website “Heimatkunde Muttenz

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

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

 

The Rheintalflexur at the Birs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

More signs of the Rheintalflexur: The quarry above Münchenstein

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The “Rheintalflexur” at the Hornfelsen (Dinkelberg)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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



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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How did the Rhine Rift Valley come into existence?

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

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

The four stages overlapped in time.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Website ETH Zurich, knowledge about earthquakes

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The destructive impact of the earthquake – historical evidence

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



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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Around Basel: Hiking to Flüh discovering the gorgeous Chälegraabe

The area around Basel is full of secrets. 

Let us discover the Chälegrabe today. 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Chälegrabe starts as a gentle creek with wooden bridges.

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

… and the rocks  are getting larger and narrower.

I pass by the picnic place…

… and climb up steeply on the zigzag path.

I cross the deep canyon…

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

… with waterfalls below.

I go back down again…

… to pick up my bicycle at the car park.

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

 

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

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

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

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

The area around Basel is full of secrets.  

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The area around Basel is full of secrets. 

Source: Swiss Mobile (with my notes added) 

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

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

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

 

1 The historical border stones between Metzerlen and Burg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

In 1946, Burg selected this coat of arms.

Source: wiki entry for Burg

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

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

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

 

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