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Guide to the Basel City Hall

Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the Basel City Hall, a new book has just appeared in the “Swiss Heritage Guides” series.

Basel’s City Hall is a magnificent building, an architectural monument from the late Gothic and Renaissance periods, after Basel joined the Swiss Confederacy in 1501. The City Hall on Basel’s market square, with the magnificent council chamber, was completed in 1514. Until today, it remains the seat of the Grand Council and the cantonal government. When needed, changes were always made respectfully according to the new requirements of the times. The extensive renovations and additions around 1900, including the tower that dominates the market square, continued the tradition, but at the same time they reinterpret the building in the light of the modern, democratic state.

The 88-page Heritage Guide presents a handy and richly illustrated summary of the current state of knowledge concerning Basel’s City Hall. Aspects of history, city planning, building typology and political iconography are discussed and illustrated. The famous murals show examples of good and bad judgement and governance. But, today, who is familiar with the “Judgement of Cambyses”, or the story of Susanna, or the “Calumny of Apelles”? In comparison with city halls in other countries north of the Alps, Basel’s City Hall offers a great wealth of preserved imagery from the 16th and 17th centuries. The changes made around 1900 adopted the same visual language of that “Great Period”, just as the anniversary of Basel’s accession to the Confederacy was extravagantly feted. The pictures in the council chamber depict scenes from Basel’s history, enacted by figures rendered as portraits of prominent personages from turn-of-the-20th-century Basel.

Author Martin Möhle is an art historian for the Basel-Stadt Kantonale Denkmalpflege (cantonal department for monument preservation), and compiler of the inventory of art monuments, which is to be published in book form. The preparation and printing of the Heritage Guide was made possible by the Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt with the support of the Kantonale Denkmalpflege.

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