Basel : Marktplatz and around
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Shop-lined Gerbergasse and Freiestrasse, as well as a dense network of narrow, sloping medieval alleys – such as Schneidergasse (Tailor Street), Sattelgasse (Saddle Street) and Imbergässlein (Ginger Alley) – run north from Barfüsserplatz to Marktplatz, the Old Town’s other main square and still crowded every morning with fruit-and-veg stalls. Lighting up the broad rectangular space with a splash of eye-catching colour is the elaborate scarlet facade of the Rathaus (Town Hall), the central arcaded section sixteenth century, the tower and side annexe both late nineteenth century. Feel free to wander into the frescoed interior courtyard – or take one of the tourist office’s guided tours (Tues 3pm; Fr.10) of the interior. At the northern end of the square is the small Fischmarkt, with its central fountain, just beyond which is the tourist office at the southern end of the Mittlere Brücke, a modern construction at the site of what was for centuries the only bridge over the Rhine between the Bodensee and the North Sea.

On the facade of Churrasco restaurant, looking along the bridge, you’ll spot an odd little bust of a bearded man: this is the Lällekeenig, or Tongue King. The original Lällekeenig adorned the gate of the bridge from the mid-seventeenth century, greeting all arrivals to the city until the gate’s demolition in 1839, and had a clockwork motor so that he rolled his eyes and stuck out his tongue in time with the ticking. He was probably made to demonstrate what Grossbaslers thought of their down-at-heel Kleinbasel neighbours, but these days the city is united, the clockwork original is in the Historisches Museum, and the Lällekeenig still staring along the bridge is a static copy.

From Marktplatz and Fischmarkt, quiet old lanes climb steeply west towards the former city walls; up here are the Gothic Peterskirche (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm) on Petersgraben, the plain exterior of which harbours late-medieval frescoes, and more or less opposite, Basel’s university campus. Among many famous names connected with the university, Nietzsche taught classical philosophy here from 1869 to 1879. The narrow Spalenvorstadt leads west from here to the Spalentor, most elaborate of the surviving city gates, with massive wooden doors and a huge portcullis. Nietzsche lived round the corner, at Schützengraben 47. The small Jüdisches Museum der Schweiz, Kornhausgasse 8 (Jewish Museum; Mon & Wed 2–5pm, Sun 11am–5pm; free; www.igb.ch) displays gravestone fragments with Hebrew inscriptions which date back to 1222 as well as plenty of interesting historical items from religious and everyday Jewish life. Their short video (in English) on the history of the Jews in Basel is excellent.

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