Castles Around Basel


Castles Around Basel - At the Cross Roads..!

Written by Nitin Pradhan Jul 19, 2020
Basel in Switzerland – a place that we call home, is perhaps one of the rarer places in the world that is at the cross roads of three countries. In last 12 years we have experienced how it weaves into the life of Basel with its unique language, art, culture and WE THE PEOPLE – many of us live in France or Germany but come to work in Switzerland every day. 

As we started Catterfly, I decided to learn more about the history of the city and while there are traces of early settlement from 5th century BC, the first millennium was mostly about Romans, Gauls, and eventually the confederation of Alemanni  tribes from Germany crossed the Rhine river a final time in 4th century, conquering and then settling what is today Alsace and a large part of the Swiss Plateau. From that time, Basel has been an Alemannic settlement. The city in itself got most of the bearings and monuments in early part of the millenia with its main cathedral (Munster), Guilds of the traders, oldest bridge on the Rhine. Importantly, the city was flanked by several castles surrounding the valley of the River Bir. This post is about these Castles as Basel and its surrounding region has many interesting castles, many of which were destroyed in the earthquake of 1356 and many others were just abandoned. In any case, it always provides for a good hike over the weekend.

As Switzerland was opening up post COVID lockdowns, we decide to get on to small hikes around the city. As the joke goes in our family, I was a king / knight in previous births and hence this fascination with visiting Castles and that I drag every one along. And, I usually repartee - Am still a King, but without a castle; and in a way I invited a challenge to visit all the castles around Basel.

Ruins of Pfeiffingen: among the largest castle ruins in the canton Basel-Country and constitute a monument of national significance. The Pfeffingen ruin sits on a ridge above the village of the same nam. The first mention of residents in the castle was in the year 1212, when a family called Schaffner from Pfeffingen lived there. During the Thirty Years’ War, Swedish troops were billeted there over an 11-year period. Thanks to sturdy new walls, the castle has an impressive new façade, wider walkways, as well as two barbecue and seating areas. From the new viewing platform, it is possible to see not only the remains of the castle walls but also far into the valley leading to Basel City.  

Dorneck Castle: Few weekends ago, we went around to Dorneck Castle built around 1000 years ago, and is the site of 1499 battle between the Swabian alliance and the Swiss federation during the Swabian War. Definitely of great national importance in Switzerland as it’s the place, where the Swiss won a final decisive victory, and peace treaty between the two sides was signed in Basel that granted Swiss Confederacy far-reaching independence from Holy Roman empire subsequently. It sits atop a nice small around the suburb of Dornach, and very well connected by public transport. Once can simply walk through winding route that starts from the train station of Dornach, but we decided to start off the hike from another castle – Angenstein near neighboring suburb of Aesch.

Bottmingen Castle: We have passed thru this castle several times as it's just in one of the suburbs of Basel – but did it again during one of the evening bike ride with our daughter to formally tick it off the list. The moated castle of Bottmingen, was originally built in 13th century is one of the few such buildings in Switzerland that are still intact. Later it was transformed into French Baroque style in 18th century and got its own English Garden in 19th century. For the last 70+ years it's under Swiss federation and site of national importance - not only that it's a famous restaurant and private events venue. We also planned a personal event in this castle, which unfortunately had to cancelled at the last minute, and that is a topic reserved for discussion over a glass of Red Wine..!

Rotteln castle: it is 12 kms out into Germany from Basel. We have been there several times, but the last time around I had only an hour to bike back/forth and barely managed to get in there. The castle was originally constructed in 11th and being on the Swiss-German border, it has exchanged ownership between the Knights, Counts, Bishops of Baden Wurttemberg state in Germany and Basel. On a clear day, one can see all the way to the Swiss snow covered Alps from top of this castle, and like many other castles in the region – most of the renovated castle like this one is a great private event venue as well.

Binningen Castle. It is another castle in the neighboring suburb of Basel called Binningen, and this time I went around the castle when I was out for evening run. It was built in the 1290s, originally as a moated castle. Two earthquakes destroyed the foundation walls, and the castle was almost burned to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1414 but destroyed again in 1444 during a famous local battle. Since then it have had several owners - including an attempt by Bailiff of Dorneck (the castle that we visited last weekend). It has been used as a military outpost, old Inn, local tavern, and an attempt was even made to convert it into a summer casino in early 19th century. Now its owned by municipality of Binningen (in Basel Country) and is a famous hotel with a well-known restaurant.

Birneck and Reichenstein Castle: Another late evening bike ride, and figured yet another castle around 12kms away from the city. Guess, with this I probably visited all the major castles around the city, and, led to me to write another blog post on Castles and the Ruins around Basel. 

Birseck castle is a prominent castle as it rises high above the suburb of Basel at Arlesheim. It is visible for miles, appears to watch over the Ermitage (place where hermits used to live in the past). It also boast of largest English Garden in Switzerland that surrounds a nice lake, grottos/caves, wonderful views over the town surrounded by vineyards, and of course the various parts of the Castle. It was built in 13th century, like other castles in the region was destroyed in quake of 1365 and then rebuilt. Since then it has been rebuilt, auctioned off, and finally, used as a quarry. Today, the site belongs to a Foundation. It has been renovated and is open to visitors during the summer season - but only on specific days. So, we went back along with the kids to make sure that we are able to visit it from inside as well. The next visit also allowed us to Ermitage as well as the Apollo Grotto (caves) and that is probably equally or more beautiful. If one enters from the side of Ermitage, then it is a good climb up the hill passing through the caves in between. Overall, it’s a beautiful place to spend at least half a day and visit various parts of the castle, caves and the Ermitage. 

So far, I didn’t get a chance to visit Reichenstein castle, that is just around the corner from Birneck castle and one can see it through the woods. Unfortunately, it was already evening by the time we were done with our visit to Birseck castle and ‘visiting all Major Castles around Basel’, is still somewhat of a unfinished agenda. Perhaps, sometime soon...!
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