Basel (bäˈzəl) [key] or Basle bäl, Fr. Bâle, canton, N Switzerland, bordering on France and Germany. It is bounded in the N by the Rhine River (which becomes navigable in the canton) and in the S by the Jura Mts. Although it has industries, Basel is mainly a region of fertile fields, meadows, orchards, and forests. Its inhabitants are German-speaking and Protestant. The canton has been divided since 1833 into two independent half cantons— Basel-Land (1993 pop. 248,500), 165 sq mi (427 sq km), generally comprising the rural districts, with its capital at Liestal, and Basel-Stadt (1993 pop. 196,600), 14 sq mi (36 sq km), virtually coextensive with the city of Basel (1993 pop. 175,500) and its suburbs.
Divided by the Rhine, the city consists of Greater Basel (Grossbasel, left bank), which is the commercial and intellectual center, and Lesser Basel (Kleinbasel), where industry is concentrated. Basel is a major economic center and the chief rail junction and river port of Switzerland. It is also a financial center. The city is the seat of the Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical industry and of the Swiss Industries Fair; it also has an important publishing industry. Other products are machinery and silk textiles.
Founded by the Romans (and named Basilia), it became an episcopal see in the 7th cent. It passed successively to the Alemanni, the Franks, and to Transjurane Burgundy. In the 11th cent. it became a free imperial city and the residence of prince-bishops. The celebrated Council of Basel (see separate article) met there in the mid-15th cent. Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501 and accepted the Reformation in 1523. Although expelled from the city, the bishops continued to rule the bishopric of Basel (including Porrentruy and Delémont, which in 1815 became part of Bern canton and in 1979 part of Jura canton). The oppressive rule of the city's patriciate over the rest of the canton led to revolts (1831–33) and the eventual split into two cantons.
One of the oldest intellectual centers of Europe, Basel has through its university (founded 1460 by Pius II) attracted leading artists, scholars, and teachers. It was the residence of Froben, Erasmus, Holbein the Younger, Calvin, Nietzsche, and the Bernoulli family. Jacob Burckhardt and Leonhard Euler were born there. Among the city's noted structures are the cathedral (consecrated 1019), in which Erasmus is buried; the medieval gates; several guild houses; the 16th-century town hall; the Kunstmuseum with a valuable collection of Holbein's works; and the Fondation Beyeler, a modern-art museum designed by Renzo Piano. The city has many other art galleries and museums. Basel's St. Johann neighborhood is the site of a number of buildings by such outstanding contemporary architects as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Yoshio Taniguchi.