Basel Historical Museum - Barfuesserkirche

Basel Historical Museum - Barfuesserkirche

Basel Historical Museum - Barfuesserkirche
Historic Sites • History Museums
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10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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Housed in the Barfüsserkirche since 1894, Basel Historical Museum presents selected aspects of the history of Basel from prehistoric times to the present. Especially worthy of note here are the works of pre-Reformation sacred art such as the Basel Dance of Death and Basel Cathedral Treasury. The section called «Understanding the World» installed in the basement comprises a magnificent array of medieval tapestries with their fantasy worlds and scenes of real life, the Renaissance and Baroque collections grouped together in one «Great Cabinet of Curiosities», and Basel’s rich archaeological heritage. Among the other highlights here are the coin cabinet and Burgundian Booty.
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2-3 hours
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167 reviews
Very good

High Wycombe, UK23 contributions
An overnight stop in Basel en route from Italy to the UK gave us a couple of hours to look around town. Quite by chance we came across the Barfüsserkirche which had a wonderful exhibition of 17th century silver drinking vessels.
The lady on the reception desk was very welcoming and gave us an ipad with translations of all the information on the exhibits. The museum is housed in a beautiful church (the clue’s in the name) and we could have whiled away the whole day there, had we not had a train to catch.
We were so enthralled by the Schöner Trinken exhibition that we only had a limited time to look round other exhibits, so I bought their illustrated guide to the museum (only 4.5 Swiss francs, best bargain in Basel!) to give me at least a secondhand look at the museum’s other treasures.
It was just delightful and I hope I will have an opportunity to visit it again one day and spend more time there.
Written September 24, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Gary S
20 contributions
Basel History Center is worth the 90 minutes to 2 hours that it will take you to tour the facility. It is at the confluence of a NUMBER OF TRAMS in the center of OLD TOWN. Good history lesson about the city
Written September 21, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Weston super Mare, UK2,073 contributions
The museum is located in an old church and has many interesting dispalys on the story of the history of Basel and the surrounding area. The only gripe is that very little of the information is in English. Don't forget to use your Basel Card to get a reduction on the admission charge!
The facade of the museum was partially hidden when I visited by the largest of the Christmas Markets in Basel - well worth a visit if you are there in December! Across the road from the museum is a busy tram stop where you can get to all the other parts of the city.
Written February 13, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
Many thanks for your visit and valued feedback. We are always interested in constructive feedbacks. In addition, we are happy you have enjoyed your visit at our museum! Please kindly take note, we offer an eGuide in English and French for free at our welcome/cash desk.
Written February 17, 2020
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Romford, UK4 contributions
We visited in the morning of 12th August and was greeted buy a lovely friendly lady who explained about the combined museum ticket which we purchased. We were given a tablet and told how to translate the explanations of each numbered exhibit into English. Off we went happily but had to leave after just over an hour as we had a reservation for a booked city cruise. We said we would return afterwards. When we returned the reception staff had changed to an elderly man and a different lady. I wanted to visit the toilet before continuing our visit to the museum and as I headed towards the toilet the man came running over and told me to put my bag in the lockers and was waiting for me just outside the toilet to make sure I did. Afterwards I continued on the visit around the museum but realised I needed the tablet again for the translations. So I headed to the reception desk where the man and the lady were both reading. I was the only person at the reception desk. I said Guten Tag and waited like a lemon for 30 seconds plus while they continued to look down at their books and ignore me. So I stormed away and just called them ignorant. Was it me? It ruined the rest of my visit and I just couldn't wait to get out.
Written August 14, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

France98 contributions
The Historisches Museum Basel houses a treasury of world renown. Once a church, now a museum, it is located directly opposite the Barfüsser tram stop.

Step into that unassuming building (ignore the drab area on the left passing for a coffee shop) and you experience a quiet uncluttered calm that belies the importance of the treasury discreetly exhibited within. Churches have been endowed with jewel-encrusted, gold and silver objects since the late 8th century. Jewels can be readily sold; gold and silver are easily reworked into coin or ingots to pay for wars, so many medieval treasuries have disappeared. So few medieval treasuries exist in Europe today that scholars can only learn about what once was through written inventories.

The Basel Cathedral Treasury was assembled over five centuries from 1019 to 1529 when the Protestant Reformation became established in Basel. It is rare because it has survived almost intact, nine hundred years. Over half of the original pieces are in the Historisches Museum. Five years ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, assembled almost the complete treasury for a major exhibition. It borrowed missing pieces from museums in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Zurich.

When the earthquake of 1356 toppled portions of the cathedral’s towers into the Rhine below, its treasury remained snug and undamaged within. It has outlived two eras destructive to Catholic religious objects and icons, the Protestant Reformation and iconoclasm, but not the division of Basel into Basel City and Basel Land. One item that fell victim to this division was the gilded silver Reliquary Bust of Saint Ursula (1300–1320). Basel Land being the poorer of the two regions sold part of its treasury. A hundred years later, the bust, purchased with donations from the people of Basel, was recovered from the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Its history began a half-century before its creation. In 1254, the Cologne Cathedral gave the Basel Cathedral a skull and two arm bones, among other relics of several thousand martyred virgins, or so the story goes.

There is no dearth of Ursula legends, all of Monty Pythonesque proportions. Details and dates vary. Essentially, Ursula was doomed to marry a heathen. She managed to postpone her wedding for three years, to make a pilgrimage to Rome to devote (albeit temporarily) her virginity to Christ. The delay would give her fiancé sufficient time to convert to Christianity, be baptized and become a devout practising Christian.

Ursula set sail from Britain with eleven thousand maidens in tow. Blown to the mouth of the Rhine, she and the damsels sailed up the river to Cologne where an angel foretold Ursula’s demise as a martyr. Unfazed, Ursula continued up the Rhine to Basel where she and all 11,000 chaste companions disembarked to continue their journey through the Alps to Rome, on foot. Along the way, Ursula managed to convert these ingénues to Christianity.

In Rome, Ursula met a certain Pope Cyriacus who was supposed to accompany her safely home but backed out. In the meantime, word reached the ruling Huns in Cologne that Ursula and her troop would be passing through. Only interested in women for pleasure according to one Ursuline Internet site, they eagerly awaited Ursula’s arrival.

Writers are always cautioned not to use hackneyed phrases like the one I am about to use but I can think of none more apt. Perhaps the expression ‘a fate worse than death’ originated with Ursula’s narrative because in Cologne, the maidens exchanged their heads for their maidenheads.

Surveying thousands of beheaded corpses, Ursula was comforted and entreated by the Top Hun to take his bloodied hand in marriage. Alas, already betrothed to a Christian, Ursula could not be tempted by the heathen Hun’s proposal and also perished. To add insult to ignominy, forty years ago, Pope Paul VI struck Ursula from the saints’ registry.

Centuries later, unsullied by time and travel, the Reliquary bust of Saint Ursula smirks serenely in the Historisches Museum Basel.
If your German isn’t up to scratch and you are unable to decipher the explanations beside each treasury exhibit, there’s an excellent film on the ground floor you can watch in English or French.
Another section of the museum houses bits of a mural rescued from the interior of the Prediger Church’s cemetery wall. These fragments of the Totentanz (Dance of Death) are all that remain of a two-metre high, sixty-metre long mural, warning the populace of Basel (still smarting from the earthquake and the Black Death) to live a virtuous if not exemplary life because Death could strike before its victim received last rites.

Once a popular theme in Europe, many a Totentanz was lost when Europe was bombed in World War II. Basel’s centuries old wall fell before the war; victim to urban expansion, it came crashing down in 1805. There’s no record of its commission but it is thought that the Totentanz was painted around 1430. The mural, protected from the elements by a cantilevered roof, depicted several levels of medieval society from a duke and his duchess, to a count, a knight and so on down to a crippled beggar. Each one, caught unawares, was made to dance with a skeleton—death. The message was clear; irrespective of one’s social standing, whether powerful or rich, death claims us all and in death we are all equal. The wall no longer stands but its message still does.

Also on display are some of Basel’s guild treasures, tapestries, ecclesiastical art and furniture. Not to be missed are the treasures hidden beneath the former church.

Kinderleben in Basel displays objects illustrating how (mostly privileged) children lived in Basel between the 18th and 20th century. There is also a coin section, several exquisite rooms from ancient demolished houses in Basel, some weaponry and much more.

If I were to identify a single negative point about the museum, it is that almost all the explanations are in German. Granted, Basel is a predominantly German speaking city and we all need to make an effort to learn the language, but at the same time, like it or not, it’s an international city. The museum would attract more visitors from the city and the region if the directors were to make information more accessible by having it in French and English; nevertheless, it’s well worth a visit.
Written December 12, 2008
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

United Kingdom76 contributions
This museum looks relatively small from the outside, being housed in an old church building, but it is so packed full of information and artefacts that a museum-lover could easily spend an entire day here. The permanent collection contains a good mixture of historical items, archaeological finds and curios from the private collections of many of Basel's notable citizens. The cathedral treasury, some nice stained glass and an impressive alterpiece are also here, as well as a room dedicated to the preservation of a mural depicting the Basel dance of death. There is a section on the history of Basel and the museum also hosts temporary exhibits, as well as music concerts in the evenings.

If your German is a little rusty, I'd recommend getting the (free) tablet at the desk which will enable you to read the explanations in a language of your choice. The order of the exhibits is a little confusing at first but you can always go back and pick up a lost thread as and when needed. All in all, well worth a visit for the history enthusiast.
Written September 23, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Copenhagen, Denmark405 contributions
I would have liked a bit more general information about the citys history, but when you move down the basement there are nice exhibitions about the city´s past. Beautiful treasures, including the munster-treasure on the balcony. If you like history it is worth a visit
Written July 20, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Mireille A
Basel, Switzerland101 contributions
Man, oh man, what a great museum this was! Practically located smack dab in the middle of the Basel city center, this is one attraction that wont be too hard to get to once you get the hang of Basel's (ultra-efficient) public transportation system.

Okay, once you get there, its impossible to not stand back and go "WOW". This museum is housed in an extremely old church (judging from the architecture and archival paintings) maybe from the 1300-1400s. However, once you get inside, that's where the familiarity ends and the adventure really begins!

First get some tickets, though. Penny-pinchers and cheapskates alike will thoroughly appreciate that unlike most museums that give you a catchy slogan and then ask for money, you pretty much enter and are welcome to browse a few exhibits in the main hallway to get a taste of the wonderful exhibits on display.

Prices on tickets are really affordable too considering the size of the place. I got an awesome student rate which was 10 francs ($12 US) and the normal rate is 15 francs. The cashier immediately noticed that I was from the North American side of the western hemisphere, so she also gave me a guide book with most of the artifacts explained in English. The only thing is that if you also get a guide book, be forewarned that its not in any particular order, or at least its not ordered according to exhibits layout. So be prepared to do a lot of skimming and skipping back and forth between pages.

Being from the North American side of the western hemisphere "Aint nobody got time fo' dat", so I didn't use the guide book much and opted to instead take a picture of the descriptions in the native German language, vowing to Google Translate it later.

Got your tickets? Okay, now prepare for the toughest part of your visit: Choosing which way to go first!

Do you:

-Stay in the main area looking at the rest of the "free" exhibits, drinking in the atmosphere of the age-old church with ceilings as high as the eye can see (and the neck can crane?)

-Forge ahead into the Christian history portion rife with artifacts and stained glass pieces that have stood preserved for centuries?

-Head upstairs to marvel at the history of the many Swiss guilds that have crafted the finest pieces for near countless ages?

-Shuffle down to the basement for a look at historical antiquities from all over the world, including rare tapestries from the 12th century?

Haha, sorry to be you at that moment!

For what its worth, the museum, though set in the most historical backdrop possible for Switzerland, takes strides to incorporate its attractions into the modern era. On more than several instances, I cautiously stepped into darkened rooms that would automatically light up just enough for me to see where I was going, but yet soft enough to not inadvertently damage the priceless artifacts behind double-tempered glass.

Sehr cool, as they say in German!

While some readers wont get the opportunity to visit the temporary "Watch This" exhibit that was also featured the day I visited, it is worth mentioning. If you are visiting Basel in the next week or two, head over and see the temporary exhibit QUICK! It showcases the history of Swiss watchmaking dating back to the beginning of the last century. Not only were there pieces on display, but the entire room took you on a journey through time and space. Gotta see it to believe it. There was even a simulation of the watchmaking process, that got people interacting and "building" their own timepieces.

For those that cant break away from the museum, there is an in-house coffee shop serving cafe style food and drinks, maybe even lunch but this time I didn't explore that option too much. For those that want to take an extended break, there are in and out privileges, so you can head outside and grab some local street food, or if you are from the North American side of the western hemisphere, there's a McDonalds across the street so you can suck down cheeseburgers until you get over your homesickness.

Written April 27, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Colin H
Basel, Switzerland90 contributions
Although clearly signposted it is easy to miss this interesting museum in an old church building in the centre of the city (in Barfüsserplatz). There is much else to see and people often ignore this place. There is a static exhibition as well as frequently changing "specials". at the moment it is a history of how World War 1 had a major effect on Swiss culture, business and border controls. Although most of the information is in German there are English guide books available to borrow if you ask at the ticket desk.

There is also an excellent cafö in the foyer (no charge to go there) where you can have excellent soups and bread for a modest price for lunch if you wish. But be early, it is popular for those "in the know"!
Written February 18, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Jun Jacinto
New York City, NY1,474 contributions
Enjoying the beautiful city of Basel and visiting this historical museum and find it so amusing and beautiful.
Written January 13, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.
Many thanks for your feedback. We are happy you have enjoyed your visit at our museum.
Written January 16, 2020
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

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