Basel, Switzerland: More than an Art Fair

Mary Elizabeth Collins

Basel is a Swiss city with an impressive historic center, modern architecture and stunning views of the Rhine River at every turn. It is also a magnet for art lovers who come to the world-famous Art Basel fair of modern and contemporary art, considered one of the most important art events in the world.

The Swiss city of Basel stands in the heart of northern Europe, on the banks of the Rhine River, strategically located where France, Germany, and Switzerland come together. The ancient Romans built garrisons for their legions already in 30 BC in the area known as Münsterhügel (Cathedral Mountain). These days Münsterhügel is home to the most famous attractions in Basel’s Old Town. From here you can see the legendary Black Forest and the Alsace.Basel, Switzerland

The founding of the University of Basel in 1460—thanks to the intervention of Pope Pius II—was a decisive step in the city’s development, Considered the oldest in Switzerland, its three principal faculties—divinity, law, and medicine—attracted many scholars, making Basel an important center of humanism.

The most impactful historic monuments in Basel are the Great Market Square (Marktplatz) with its rich decoration, the City Hall, and the beautiful cathedral (Basler Münster), built of red sandstone in Romanesque-Gothic style. During a stroll through the old town, after browsing shops filled with antique books, you’ll also find modern designer boutiques. Nearby is the Läckerli Huus, Basel’s sweetest spot, a bakery that serves the best traditional honey cake.

Basel, Switzerland

There is also a modern part of town with magnificent architecture by the likes of Herzog & de Meuron, Diener & Diener, Mario Botta and Richard Meyer.

Basel is a unique destination for art lovers. In addition to countless leading galleries, you’ll find about 40 museums, including the Basel Museum of Art; the Museum of Cultures—with more than 300,000 objects and historical photographs— the Museum dedicated to the sculptor Jean Tinguely; and the Beyeler Foundation, a modern venue created by Pritzker-winner Renzo Piano. Another famous attraction is the Basel Theater, which opened in 1834, home to the city’s opera and ballet companies, as well as the Basel Symphony Orchestra.

Basel, Switzerland

Every year, Basel hosts Art Basel, the leading fair for modern and contemporary art. During those days, this Swiss city comes alive with exhibitions, record-breaking sales, and parties where buyers and art lovers arrive from all over the world, seeking to acquire the most coveted art pieces in the world.

Nature lovers have the botanical garden, parks, and the banks of the Rhine, which are perfect places for relaxing, walking and resting. Its beautiful zoo founded in 1874, which the locals affectionately call “Zolli,” offers a spectacular recreation of Namibia´s savanna.

The accommodations in Basel are superb, and the city has a good selection of five-star hotels. One of the most notorious is the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, one of the oldest urban hotels in Europe, located in the historic center of Basel on the Rhine. Illustrious guests such as Queen Elizabeth II of England, Pablo Picasso, and Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann have stayed at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois. The esteemed hotel, its bars, and restaurants have become the meeting point for business between collectors, gallerists, and international art dealers who come every year to Art Basel. Also—and especially for gourmets and gourmands—this legendary jewel of Basel houses the 2-Michelin starred restaurant Cheval Blanc.  ■

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