Basel's Cathedral: Enjoying the Cloisters


Basel's cathedral is spectacular, with its tall towers atop the city's tallest hill, its colorful roof and its unusual sundials.

DSC02355DSC02356This visit, though, I didn't go in. Instead, I spent a pleasant hour wandering around the attached cloisters, with their spaces alternately dark and filled with sunlight and their terrace overlooking the Rhine way below.

Above, the sundials, at right angles on the tower and set intentionally one hour wrong*. Below, St George holds off the dragon with, essentially, a 10-foot pole.

Like most of Europe's great churches and cathedrals, the cloisters were once part of the living, working, praying and contemplating quarters for monks and nuns who staffed the church and its enterprises; it's likely they were quite busy for most of the day. Today, the busy is brought by visitors.


In Basel, there are actually two adjoining cloisters, connected by several open garden spaces which were undoubtedly more intensively cultivated and curated back when, but the religious orders that filled their spaces were dispersed after the Reformation in the 16th century, and the cloisters took on new roles.


One of them was to serve as a marketplace. Today, the nearby main city market continues the tradition of a daily market, but in the cloisters there's a delightful display of sculpted fruits and vegetables on market stalls, with sacks of metal produce standing by.


Walking through the cloisters provides a constant shift of views, from rooms that seem as if part of a completely-enclosed structure, such as the one just below, to long corridors of windows, like the next ones after.


Elsewhere, the open galleries create contrasts of light and dark, of earth tones and greens—some with large spaces, and some seeming more intimate. I have to admit that views through cloister walls into the light are among my favorite view. And congratulations to George G and Professor Abe, who both recognized the Basel cloisters.


But nearly everywhere, the endless plaques commemorating births, deaths, battles, donations, organizations and now obscure events. It's good to have a cloister to hang them all on—think how the cathedral's walls might otherwise look!


The gardens themselves pop into view around corners and across corridors as you walk. The first views here are in the smaller, or minor cloister.


And these are in the broader expanses of the major cloister. In older times, contemplation in gardens was often a daily activity for the religious. but spaces of this sort were planted for herbs and vegetables rather than grass and flowers.

There are plenty of other views from within the cloister and its gardens, especially those looking to the Cathedral itself.


And a few more views of the building itself, with its elaborate detailing in many places. 


*If you're curious about 'Basel Time' and why the sundials are an hour off, the answer (as best we know) is in this TravelGumbo blog.


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