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Behind the Doors of Basel


When you spend a lot of time looking at buildings, you find that you begin particularly noticing doors, especially those with artistic attraction or imposing size—and you can end up with quite a few pictures of them.

Last summer, I spent three weeks in Basel, and part of each day was spent wandering the streets of the Altstadt, the Old City, and its near neighbors. As I've gone through the resulting photos (several hundred) I began putting aside some of the unusual or typical doors you'll see here.

Some are just 'luxe' or impressive, like this entrance to the elegant Hotel Les Trois Rois or the doors of the Natural History Museum just below it.


Some are quite ancient, if otherwise unremarkable; the huge wooden door set in one of the remnant towers of the city walls is an example. Below it, a considerably more remarkable ancient door, at the city's cathedral, and another that's a side door to the cathedral.


But the most common kind of door I encountered belongs to the period of Art Nouveau, roughly from the 1890s to the First World War. Basel was doing a lot of building then, and realigning ancient streets to modern sizes, so you'd expect the style—but it appears that many Baselers liked the new styles enough to fit them into buildings much older, with surprisingly good results.


This handsome set of carved doors was installed on a Renaissance building near the cathedral. Below, the medieval Augustinerhof got a new pair, too.


The wood-and-glass combination was clearly flavor-of-the-age, appearing in many variations, including these on apartment buildings along and near Hebelstrasse.


Public buildings were fitted with impressive doors, too. Here's the Museum of Applied Arts, now connected to the University, but originally sponsored by artisan guilds. Below it, two buildings belonging to the University and the University Hospital.


But good doors can also be found on more humble premises; Vetter Brothers is a tinsmith, roofing and sanitary goods company that knows how to make an entrance... Below it, a store that stands out, and calls itself 'precious.'


An older-style version of the glass and wood them is struck by this building, which houses the Business Science department of the University.


Another older building fitted with new doors in the Altstadt, Sperber. 


And then a building not nearly as old as you might think it at first glance, with its painted inscription in old script by the door. Translated, it says "The Guild Hall of the Shoemakers stood for more than 500 years on Freiestrasse and was torn down in 1897. In the year 1926, the Feldscholosschen Brewery provided the Guild of Shoemakers with a home in its house."


And thereby hangs a tale. This building, whose age I haven't ascertained, is in Hutgasse, not far from where the original Shoemakers Guild stood in Freiestrasse, the first of the medieval guilds to have its own home. But in modern times, the guild fell on hard times, and when the city moved to widen Freiestrasse and shave the frontage of buildings on one side of it, the guild didn't have the money to remodel, and was so far in debt it was glad of the chance to sell it and move to rented rooms, and eventually to this site.


The Saffron Guild, however, originally composed of spice merchants, had long since expanded to take in a wide variety of traders and merchants, was still wealty enough to build itself an impressive new palace one block away from Freistrasse. The guild still exists, and the ground floor is rented to a well-regarded restaurant called Safranzunst, the guild's name.


Just near the Safranzunst is this building, whose identity still eludes me. But what caught my eye was not the truly characterless recent door but the unusual evocation of a Gothic arch, with a center at the top that is anything but ancient.


Three churches, above, each with a different door treatment. First, Karl Moser's 1929 St Anthony Church, the early Gothic Prediger Church with modern doors, and a small entrance to the cloister at Basel's cathedral.


And the magnificent glass doors of Moser's St Paul Church, seen from outside and from inside, with glass probably designed by Max Laeuger.


Above, one that's clearly going for the 'over the top' look and below, one small quirky building, age unknown but likely older by far than its neighbors, and its quietly elegant door.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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