Insider tips from Basel: top events, competitions and special offers

Sign up now

The history of the Carnival in Basel

Why does Basel celebrate Fasnacht? All you need to know about the history and background to the "three best days". The Carnival in Basel is Switzerland's largest "carnival" and the main Protestant one in the world. However, its history is lost in the mists of time as all the relevant documents were lost in the devastating earthquake of 1356. The oldest document about the Carnival in Basel dates back to 1376.

Like with most carnival customs, the roots of the Basel Fasnacht trace back to ancient Celtic and Germanic origins and practices relating to ancestor worship, fertility rites, and the expulsion of winter. Later it was also influenced by such events as medieval jousts, military musters organized by the city’s guilds, and religious festivals before Lent. When, during the age of Reformation, merrymaking and feasting were increasingly restricted, even banned at times, the Basel Fasnacht gradually developed into a display of resistance against the city’s authorities. In the 19th century, the nature of Fasnacht began to change. The first cliques were formed, Schnitzelbank singers made their appearance for the first time, and piping and drumming gradually became the hallmark of Fasnacht. The parades became more political and gradually adopted their typical satirical bent. Fasnacht as we know it today took on its shape above all in the course of the latter half of the 20th century. In the years after the Second World War, many new cliques were established, the quality of piping and drumming rose to new levels, while the costumes and head-masks (Larve) took on their typical Basel touch. New traditions and rituals sprang up which are still celebrated today as if they had existed already for centuries.

Zünfte

Guilds

Basel's guilds had a considerable influence on the development of Carnival, the "three best days". Conscription of guild members required to do military duty in the 16th century was closely connected to Carnival. Military elements were incorporated which still characterize Carnival in Basel to this day: the measured marching pace to the sound of drums and piccolos.

Alte-Blaggedde-1913

Blaggedde (Fasnacht badge)

The Fasnacht badge – called a "Blaggedde" was introduced in 1911. The Fasnacht Committee (Comité), established in 1910, was permitted to sell them in order to finance part of the Fasnacht costs. The income still serves to subsidize the cliques.

1. Morgenstreich

1. Morgenstreich

The first officially permitted Morgenstreich was held in 1835. Back then, the Fasnacht participants took to the alleys with burning torches. The first pole-mounted lanterns appeared in 1845 when a ban on carrying open-flame torches was issued. The first large procession lantern was documented in 1860.

UNESCO Cultural Heritage

In 2017, UNESCO added the Basel Fasnacht to its representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, thus paying tribute to the rich tradition and singularity of this three-day event. What makes it so impressive, according to UNESCO, is its unique blend of music, written and oral forms of expression, and artisanal outputs.

Details
Comité Fasnacht

Committee

The Fasnacht Committee, founded in 1910, consists of ten to fifteen honorary members and is responsible for the organization of the “three best days of the year”. It provides services to the groups involved in Fasnacht and mediates between the interests of the Fasnacht, the general public, and the authorities.