Basel (Fr. Basle or Bode). L A canton of Switzerland, which since 1833 has been divided into two half cantons, called Basel City and Basel Country (Ger. Baselstadt and Baselland); area of both, 176 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 101,887. It is bounded by Alsace, Baden, and the cantons of Aargau, Solo-thurn, and Bern. The northern chains of the Jura here descend into the plains of the Rhine, which are about 700 ft. above the level of the sea, the highest elevation being 3,800 ft. The country is hilly but fertile, and the climate mild, the cold northern winds being intercepted by the mountains. The canton has no lakes; the Rhine is the only considerable river, though there are numerous small streams. Coal and salt are the only minerals. The agricultural products present but little variety. Cattle, hides, butter, cheese, and cherry brandy are exported. There are considerable manufactures of iron, copper, steel, silk, linen, leather, and paper; the dyeing and bleaching factories are noted. - The city half canton has an area of 14 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 47,760, of whom 34,455 were Protestants, 12,301 Catholics, 516 Israelites, and 488 of other sects.
It had in 1865 a revenue of 1,205,988 fr.; the expenditures were 1,529,373 fr.; the public debt was 5,987,885 fr., while the value of the public domain was estimated at 2,951,386 fr. The country half canton, the capital of which is Liestal, is divided into four districts; area, 162 sq. m.; pop. in 1870, 54,127, of whom 43,523 were Protestants, 10,245 Catholics, 131 Israelites, and 228 of other sects. The yearly expenditure is about 550,000 fr.; the public debt in 1867 was 824,000 fr.; while the value of the property of the canton was estimated at 2,951,386 fr. The inhabitants of both half cantons are purely Teutonic, but generally speak a mixed Franco-German dialect. II. A city, the capital of the half canton of which it forms the largest part, situated on the Rhine, 43 m. N. N. E. of Bern; pop. in 1870, 44,834. It is divided into Great Basel on the S. and Little Basel on the N. bank of the river, connected by a wooden bridge 580 feet long. The city is surrounded by unimportant fortifications, and contains a cathedral, built on the spot where stood the Roman fortress of Basilia, a university, a public library containing paintings by Holbein, the hall where the council of Basel was held, and other public buildings, among which are many educational institutions, toward the maintenance of which one-fifth of the public revenue is applied.
Basel is the most important manufacturing and commercial town in Switzerland, and the wealth of its citizens is proverbial. The ribbon manufacture, which gives employment to about 3,000 persons, is the principal branch of industry. There were formerly extensive manufactures of paper and leather, but these have declined within a few years, and are nearly abandoned. - The city was founded by the Romans, by whom it was called Basilia or Basiliana. It was destroyed in the wars between the Romans and Germans, and rebuilt in the early part of the 10th century by the German emperor Henry I., when it became the residence of a bishop, and belonged for some time to Burgundy, but after 1032 to the German empire. The territorial dominion belonged partly to an imperial bailiff, partly to the bishop, whose see extended over other localities, and partly to nobles of the rural districts and to patrician families. The latter gradually became sole proprietors until they joined the Swiss confederation; the country nobility emigrated or were embodied among the patricians, and the bishop emigrated with his chapter to Solothurn, when after 1519 the city embraced with ardor the reformed faith.
Thus the whole political sway was left with the patricians and trading corporations, who in time became omnipotent over the peasants, and reduced them and the poorer citizens to subjection, against which the latter often but in vain rebelled. The first French republic gave social equality to all classes, while a contribution of 11,000,000 francs was levied upon the city. The dissatisfaction with the restoration of the ancient prerogatives of the privileged city classes led in 1831 to several bloody battles between the soldiery of the city and the peasants, until the Swiss confederation intervened and in 1833 acknowledged the independence of the rural canton. At Basel was signed the treaty of peace between the French republic and Prussia, April 5, and that between the French republic and Spain, July 22, 1795. The population of the city, which was much larger in the middle ages, was in the middle of the 14th century greatly reduced by the "death of Basel," or "black death."