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Basel has a rich and colourful history. No wonder: the city is more than 2000 years old. Generally it has to be said that Basel used to be one of the most important cities in the Europe of the 14th, 15th and 16th century. Popes were elected here, kings and emperors met there, and the city was said to be the center of trade and science in Central Europe at the time. Many houses, museums and old streets still testify to the past glory.
It all began when Celtic fishermen used the bend of the Rhine for fishing. In 44 BC the Romans built a fort on the hill where the main cathedral is standing now, high above the Rhine. Basel grew fast but had to suffer several catastrophes, such as almost complete destruction by the Huns in 917, the plague in 1349, and especially the big earthquake in 1356 with the resulting fires that destroyed almost the entire city. The lively city recovered fast from these setbacks due to the only existing bridge over the Rhine north of the Alps (built 1225), which made Basel a trading center in central Europe.
The tolerant attitude of Basel citizens attracted refugees from all over Europe, amongst them many famous scientists, artists and philosophers, which added to the reputation of Basel being a cultural and scientific melting pot.
In 1648 it was a diplomat and mayor from Basel (Johann Rudolf Wettstein) who managed to get the definitive guarantee of independence from the German Reich for Switzerland.
In 1833 the rural part of Basel split off during a short civil war. Since then the canton is divided into Basel Stadt (the city) and Basel Land (the countryside, capital: Liestal). The city became even more urban and the smallest canton of Switzerland with just 37 Km2.
In the late 19th century, Basel was a center for silk products, which sometimes needed to be coloured. So they started to produce dyestuffs, which was the beginning of the fast-growing chemical and later pharmaceutical industry which now dominates the local economy. Names such as Novartis, Roche, Syngenta and Clariant are highly successful and known throughout the world. Vitamin pills, Valium and LSD all have their birthplace in Basel.
The two world wars left the city almost unhurt. Nevertheless, Basel was bombed twice accidentally by the Royal Airforce (1943) and the U.S. Airforce (1945).