With its red sandstone walls, multicoloured roof tiles and twin towers, the Cathedral is a dominant feature of the city. The crypt, the choir, the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Galluspforte and the two cloisters are a testimony to the eventful history of its construction over a period of several centuries.
The history of Basel as an urban settlement begins on the Cathedral Hill. In the first century BC, Celts from the tribe of the Rauricii lived there in a fortified «oppidum». In the Rittergasse, remains of the «Celtic Wall» can be seen in windows let into the ground.
In the year 15 BC, Roman troops constructed a military base on the Cathedral Hill on the border between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes. In the middle of the Münsterplatz one can see the covered shaft of a Roman well which extends down to the ground water of the Rhine.
Christianity became established in our region in the late Roman era. Documents exist which mention bishops from Augusta Raurica, a Roman civil town located roughly 10 km upstream. But from the 8th century onwards the names of all bishops, who now, however, resided in Basel, are known.
The first discernible traces of a cathedral date from the Carolingian period. This building was destroyed in 917 when the town was attacked by the Hungarians. At the beginning of the 11th century, Emperor Henry II endowed Basel with a magnificent new cathedral. In the last quarter of the 12th century, Henry's cathedral was replaced by a late Romanesque building which was restored in the Gothic style after the devastating earthquake of 1356.
Around the Münsterplatz the members of the cathedral chapter built their own late Gothic residences. The large open space was used for ceremonial processions, festivals, tournaments and lavish parades held by visiting royal and imperial personages. In 1529 Basel fully converted to the Protestant faith. The bishop and cathedral chapter left the city. The empty residences of the churchmen were purchased by rich merchants and converted in the 18th century to the late baroque and neo-classical style. The Münsterplatz became a quiet, prosperous residential quarter and later the centre of the city's administration. Today this fine square is used for all kinds of events and serves as a living open space for people to meet.