|Basel : The Münster|
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Sixteenth-century Rittergasse leads from the Kunstmuseum to Basel’s cathedral, the impressive Münster, built of red sandstonewith a patterned roof in the thirteenth century and rebuilt following an earthquake in 1356. The tower of St George, on the left of the main frontage, has some white stonework dating from the original church (consecrated in 1019), as well as a thirteenth-century statue of the saint impaling a dragon. Stone carving from 1280 above the main portal shows the cathedral’s founder, Emperor Heinrich II, holding a model of the church, with his wife Kunigunde to the left. To the right is a Foolish Virgin, with her Satanic seducer.
Inside (Easter–Oct Mon–Fri 10am–5pm, Sat 10am–4pm, Sun 1–5pm; Oct–Easter Mon–Sat 11am–4pm, Sun 2–4pm), in the north aisle, is the tomb of the Renaissance humanist Erasmus. Close by is the St Vincent panel, a Romanesque relief from around 1100 telling the story of the martyr who was killed in 312 AD: on the top left, Vincent speaks up for his bishop and is flogged for it; to the right he is tortured and led into a furnace; below, angels carry his soul to heaven while ravens protect his body before it is dumped at sea, retrieved and buried in a proper tomb. The lacy pulpit was carved – incredibly – from a single block of stone in 1486. On the north side of the choir, which has some intricate capitals, is the tomb of Queen Anna, wife of Rudolf of Habsburg, who chose to be buried in Basel, alongside her three-year-old son Karl, in an attempt to make up for her husband’s cruelty whilst ruling the town during the 1270s. In the crypt you’ll find ninth-century remains of an earlier cathedral along with some late-Romanesque frescoes.
One of the highlights of Basel is a wander through the memorably atmospheric cloisters adjoining the cathedral to the south, filled to bursting point with timeworn tombs and memorial stones. You emerge onto the Pfalz, an open, tree-lined terraced bastion behind the cathedral choir which overlooks the Rhine and gives views as far as the Black Forest. Carved elephants and grotesque creatures support the arches of the choir, and round the corner, on the north side of the church, is the spectacular St Gallus Doorway, a rich piece of Romanesque carving, with Christ at top centre, Wise and Foolish Virgins below him, and John the Baptist on the extreme left below a kneeling angel sounding a trumpet to wake the dead. Above is a round window depicting the wheel of fortune.
Tranquil alleys run northwest from Münsterplatz – amongst them Augustinergasse, with, at no. 2, the Museum der Kulturen (Museum of Civilizations; Tues–Sun 10am–5pm; Fr.6; www.mkb.ch) housing an overwhelmingly massive anthropological collection, and, separately in the same building, the equally daunting Naturhistorisches Museum (same times and price). The narrow Rheinsprung lane leads on to the St Martinskirche with, beside it, the little Elftausendjungfern-Gasse, or Alley of the Eleven Thousand Virgins; its curious name commemorates the martyrdom in Cologne of St Ursula, who refused to marry a pagan prince, and her legendary company of female supporters. The tiny lane – otherwise unremarkable – feeds down to the Mittlere Brücke.
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