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Some 17km south of Basel, and 6km south of Augst, LIESTAL – capital of the half-canton Basel-Land – is a small, industrial town with a pretty, cobbled Old Town centred on Rathausgasse. It’s along this street that Liestal’s extraordinary and truly spectacular carnival celebrations take place. On the Sunday night after Mardi Gras, thousands turn out for the Chienbesen parade, giant bonfires dragged through the medieval town on floats with onlookers brandishing flaming torches of pine branches above their heads in a dramatic, ancient spectacle. The tradition is a long-standing one, described as far back as the sixteenth century, but it’s been dogged by controversy, at one time from the church, which regarded it (with some justification) as diabolic in origin, and in more recent times from the fire brigade which regards it (also with justification) as being dangerous to life and property. Despite the raging inferno dragged through Liestal’s narrow streets each year, flames as high as the houses and people crammed shoulder to shoulder throughout the Old Town amidst the flying cinders and scorching heat, no harm has yet been done. Neighbouring SISSACH has similar fiery revels, with the torching of a 10m-high effigy, the Chluris; while in BIEL-BENKEN, to the west, locals fling burning wooden discs into the night sky in an equally mesmeric fire-orgy termed the Reedlischigge. If you’re in the area at the right time, these are all events to catch.
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