Southeast of the Basle Marktplatz the long Münsterhügel (Minster Hill) rises above the Rhine (reached from St-Alban-Graben by way of Rittergasse). The spacious Münsterplatz, on the site of the Roman fort, is an elegant 18th C. square.The Minster stands on the highest point of the hill, dominating the city with its two slender spires, its masonry of red Vosges sandstone and its colorful patterned roof. The oldest parts of the building date from the ninth-13th C. It was rebuilt in Gothic style after an earthquake in 1356, and was a cathedral until the Reformation. The high altar and much of the furnishings were destroyed by militant Protestants in 1529. The church's greatest treasures were concealed in the vaulting of the sacristy and escaped destruction, but were sold when the canton was divided into two in 1833 and are now partly in the Historical Museum in Basle and partly dispersed among other museums throughout the world.
The west front and towers of Basle Minster are entirely Gothic, with the exception of the lower part of the north tower (St George's tower), which dates from the end of the 11th C. St George's tower, with its elegant upper part and spire, is 64.2 m/211ft in height, the south tower (St Martin's), completed in 1500, is 62.7 m/206ft high.The sculptured friezes above the main doorway depict prophets in the outer frieze, roses in the middle one and dancing angels in the inner one. To the right of the doorway is a figure of the "Prince of this World" dallying with one of the Foolish Virgins: from the front he looks like a fine young man, but his back is crawling with adders and noxious vermin symbolizing corruption. To the left of the doorway are depicted the founder of the church, the Emperor Henry II, with a model of the building, and the Empress Kunigunde. Farther out, under the towers, two mounted saints represent St George (left) and St Martin (right) and above the latter are a clock and a sundial. On the central gable the figures of the founders appear again, and above them, enthroned and bearing the infant Jesus, is the Virgin (to whom the church is dedicated).
St Gallus Doorway
The Basle Minster's St Gallus doorway in the north transept (12th C.), with numerous Romanesque figures showing an archaic severity of style, is one of the oldest figured doorways in German-speaking territory. Between the slender columns on either side of the doorway are four figures, two on each side, identified by their symbols (the ox, the lion, the eagle and the angel) as Luke, Mark, John and Matthew. To right and left of the Evangelists are six tabernacles with representations of the Six Works of Mercy; above them are John the Baptist with the Lamb of God (left) and John the Evangelist; and above these figures again are two angels with the trumpets of the Last Judgment. The tympanum above the doorway depicts the Wise and Foolish Virgins, with Christ enthroned above them as the Judge of the world, flanked by Peter and Paul, who present to him the foundress and the sculptor. The large rose window above the St Gallus doorway symbolizes the Wheel of Fortune. The choir, the lower part of which is Romanesque, has round arches borne on capitals with rich foliage decoration surmounted by figures of animals. In the paving east of the choir are lines showing the plan of a ninth C. external crypt which was discovered in 1947.
Basle Minster, which was carefully investigated and restored between 1963 and 1975, is 65 m/213ft long by 32.5 m/107ft across, with double lateral aisles; the outer aisles were originally a series of interconnected chapels. The raised choir is surrounded by an ambulatory, and under it is the crypt. The Gothic organ gallery was originally a rood-screen which until 1852 separated the chancel from the nave. In front of the pulpit, under glass, is a piece of the Late Romanesque pavement (12th C.). The Romanesque capitals in the nave and ambulatory are very fine. On the north side of the ambulatory is the sarcophagus of Anna von Hohenberg, wife of Rudolf of Habsburg, and her young son Karl (d. 1271). Most of the interior furnishings were destroyed in 1529 by Protestants at the Reformation. The elaborately decorated High Gothic altar was the work of Hans von Nussdorf, builder of the Minster (1486). In the outer north aisle are a number of tombs and the monument of Erasmus, who died in Basle in 1536. The panel near here depicting eight scenes from the martyrdom and death of St Vincent of Saragossa and another panel depicting the Apostles in the outer south aisle date from the 11th C. and may be by the same sculptor. The choir stalls, now at the entrance and the crossing as well as in the choir, are of the late 14th C.
The Basle Minster Crypt, which can be entered from either side of the choir, contains the tombs of bishops of the 10th to the 13th C. and other monuments. The Romanesque frieze on the piers shows fabulous themes, hunting scenes and interlace ornament. The ceiling frescoes depict scenes from the life of the Virgin, the childhood of Christ and the lives of St Martin of Tours and St Margaret. On either side of the altar, formerly dedicated to the Virgin, are life-size Romanesque statues of bishops, dated by an inscription to 1202. On the right-hand side of the altar recess, also identified by an inscription, is Bishop Adalbero, builder of the earlier cathedral of 1019. Under the crossing are a collection of lapidary material and the recently excavated walls of a still earlier church of the early ninth C.
Basle Minster's very beautiful double cloister (entrance from Rittergasse), built in the 15th C. on Romanesque foundations, contains many monuments ranging over a period of five centuries, including that of the mathematician Bernoulli (d. 1705). The south tower can be climbed; access from inside the church. Behind the Minster is the Pfalz ("Palace"), a terrace 20 m/66ft above the Rhine with fine views of the river and the Black Forest hills.
Map - Basel Minster
Map of Basel Attractions