Basel Carnival

Category: social practices, rituals and festive events; oral expressions; performing arts; traditional craftsmanship

Basel Carnival is an event that is famous well beyond the local area and even outside of Switzerland. It is Switzerland’s largest carnival event and a rare example of a traditionally protestant carnival celebration. It is a key part of the identity of the people of Basel and includes an array of musical, oral, and craftsmanship practices that belong to intangible cultural heritage.

Clique am Cortège © Markus Burla / Basler Fasnachts-Comité
A band in the procession © Markus Burla / Basler Fasnachts-Comité

Basel Carnival pokes fun at topical follies, blunders and faux-pas from the past year, caricaturing and mocking the times we live in with a mix of sarcasm, derision and humour. Participants make use of costumes, masks, lanterns and fanciful accessories as well as the local Basel dialect. The carnival kicks off at 4am on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and an eerie silence descends on the pitch-dark streets before the Morgenstreich gets under way. The only lights allowed are the large lanterns that are pulled along or carried and the small lanterns that the piccolo players and drummers wear on their masks. On the Monday and Wednesday afternoons there are enormous processions, and musicians march through the streets in the evening. Tuesday afternoon is set aside for the children’s masked procession and on Tuesday evening the entertainment is provided by Guggenmusiken (brass bands). A particularly important role is played by the one hundred or so Schnitzelbank groups who perform their humorous and satirical songs and verses in the city’s restaurants and vaults. Basel’s Carnival is not only an established part of Basel’s culture but also a vector of identity for a large part of the population. It is therefore a particularly rich tradition which brings together various aspects of intangible cultural heritage.

Basel Carnival was nominated to UNESCO as a candidate with a view to inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 31 March 2016. It was the second Swiss candidate in connection with the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

On 7 December 2017, the 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Jeju City (Republic of Korea) inscribed Basel Carnival on its representative list.

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The tradition in detail on the list of Switzerland’s living traditions

Associated traditions

In parallel to the preparation of the nomination file for UNESCO, the corresponding files and entries on the list of Switzerland’s living traditions are also adapted as part of the regular update of the inventory. This work is done in collaboration with the stakeholders concerned.

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Last modification 29.01.2024

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