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Basel canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2004-08-14 by pascal gross
Keywords: switzerland | basel | crozier (black) | crozier (red) |
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[Flag of Basel] by António Martins

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Description of the flag

Basel Stadt: Argent, a bishop's crozier sable.

On a white field, a black bishop's crozier, with the crook turned toward the hoist.

Basel Land: Argent, a bishop's rozier with seven bosses at the crutch turned to sinister gules.

On a white field, a red bishop's crozier (Baslerstab, or "Basel staff") turned toward the fly and adorned with seven bosses on the crook.

The croziers on both flags are highly stylised (thickened and shortened beyond recognition), and their peculiar heraldic shape was well established by 1249. The three-pronged foot represents a very real spike on pastoral staffs which permitted planting them in the ground.

When the emblems of Basel Stadt and Basel Land are shown together on one flag, the croziers are impaled (i.e. side by side), and they must be separated by a black palar line. The crooks are turned away from each other, with Basel Stadt in the hoist and Basel Land in the fly.

Symbolism of the flag

The bishop's crozier has three well accepted meanings since early Christianity: it is a support or guide (the shepherd's crook that saves straying sheep), an emblem of authority and ministration, and a instrument of punishment and correction. The seven bosses or roundels on the crozier of Basel Land are actually a Gothic architectural device, and represent the seven districts of that canton.

History of the flag

While Unterwald and Appenzell were split in half-cantons from the start, Basel was originally united. The countryside of the canton separated from the original city-state only in the 19th century.

The Bishopric of Basel, founded in 346 AD by Justitian, was the oldest and most important bishopric of the upper Rhine. The city state became sovereign within the Holy Roman Empire in 1356 when the city bought its civic rights from the bishop. The crozier was originally red, but probably changed to black in 1356. Basel joined the Swiss confederation in 1501.

In 1832, liberal Basel Land seceded from the conservative city after a brief civil war which had been an overflow of the 1830 revolution in France. The new half-canton was officially admitted to the Swiss confederation in 1833. The new flag appeared the following year. The red crozier both symbolises rejection of Basel Stadt and is borrowed from the arms of Liestal which became the canton's capital. Liestal's arms since 1305 had been a red Baslerstab within a red border. The new canton omitted the red border, and very unorthodoxly turned the crozier backwards (towards the fly), demonstrating their contempt for Basel Stadt by symbolically turning their backs on them. Basel Land is the only canton to have a charge "contourne'". The canton's council confirmed this unusual design in 1947, and a plebisicite in 1969 rejected reunification of the two half-cantons.

Basel Land upon creation was the 25th or penultimate canton (counting half-cantons), while Basel Stadt kept its rank as the 12th.

T.F. Mills, 22 October 1997