Friday, 22 June 2012

Under the Bridge

I had lunch downtown today. Wanting to escape the heat, I headed down to the river and found a cool spot under the span of the Mittlere Brücke, the oldest bridge in Basel to span the Rhine. I was on the north bank facing the Old City (Altstadt), and took a few snaps.

Mittlere Brücke, Basel
I was sitting on the narrow footpath running under the span
View upstream of Basel Cathedral, medieval houses and imposing municipal buildings (converted into museums). The Rhine is a working river and is navigable all the way from Rotterdam, past Basel up until the Rheinfalls just downstream of Lake Constance, and its not an uncommon sight to see heavily laden barges struggling against the current.

You can just make out the rear end of a river barge headed upriver
The view downstream is less distinguished.

There's a chimneystack that's just about visible and is a reminder that Basel is home to giant chemical and pharmaceutical concerns like Roche, Clariant, Syngenta and Novartis (a fusion of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz). The tan building on the left is the Three Kings Hotel, the swankiest hotel in Basel whose former guests include Napoleon, Dickens, Wagner... ad nauseam. The hotel is also historically important as the site where Theodor Herzl proclaimed the aim of establishing a Jewish homeland at the 1st Zionist Congress in 1897.

The arch behind the jetty (with a group of day-trippers waiting to embark the pleasure cruiser) is the mouth of the Birsig river as it debouches into the Rhine. The Birsig flows under downtown Basel and has been progressively covered over from medieval times onward, beginning from its mouth until its entire passage through the metropolitan area was fully covered in the 1950s.

The purpose was to improve connection between the quarters of the city, to reclaim new land area (the wide market square and thoroughfares connecting it are all possible thanks to it), and for hygienic reasons. The open river flowing outside the windows of houses stacked higgledy-piggledy up against the river was too tempting an option for DIY sanitation and the river, dubbed the cloaca of the city, was a perennial source of cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Interesting to know that the Swiss weren't always über-hygienic!

Taken in the early 1900s
The entrance to the Birsig "tunnel," which is what it is today, is gated for obvious reasons.

I went on a special guided tour last year. Unfortunately the camera on the iPhone is pretty crap in low-light so all my pics turned out blurry. I grabbed this picture off the net and it basically looks like this throughout its course.

It was pretty interesting to walk beneath thousands of people, trams and buildings before emerging into bright sunshine at the Rhine. The tunnel itself was almost spotless with barely any graffiti and absolutely no litter, condoms or used needles. Only in Switzerland!

No comments:

Post a Comment