Basel Autumn Fair: an over 540-year-old tradition

Published on 10/31/2017 by Edith Thalmann
Messe Basel Herbstmesse

Last Saturday, at precisely 12 noon, the bell-ringer in the tower of St. Martin's church rang in the 547th Basel Autumn Fair. The "Basler Herbschtmäss" is the biggest and oldest funfair in Switzerland and, as a tradition dating back many years, forms part of the city's living cultural heritage. Basel became a trade fair city in the Middle Ages already, when it was granted the imperial privilege of holding fairs. It still ranks as one of Europe's most significant trade fair venues today.

Fairs have enjoyed a long tradition in Basel. The right to hold the Basel Autumn Fair "in perpetuity" was bestowed upon the Mayor of Basel by Emperor Frederick III on 11 July 1471 when the mayor travelled to the Imperial Diet in Regensburg. With this imperial privilege, Basel developed into a true trade fair city and, right up until the present, remains the biggest and most important trade fair and congress venue in Switzerland, and one of the most significant in Europe.

Basel Autumn Fair, or "d'Mäss" as it is known in Swiss German, is Switzerland's biggest and oldest funfair and, with its long tradition and special customs, forms part of the city's living heritage. It is rung in at precisely 12 noon on the last Saturday of October by the bell of St. Martin's church and lasts 15 days. As a traditional inner-city fair, its reach extends way into the surrounding region, where France, Germany and Switzerland all meet, attracting around a million people to Basel each time.

Messe Basel's fair ground is regarded as the oldest trade fair ground in existence, steeped in history and standing out through its traditional values. Games, rides, amusements and food stalls are all located side by side. In addition to the offerings in the exhibition halls, Exhibition Square is also a great favourite of the visitors each year.

The atmosphere in the City Lounge, which forms part of the hall complex designed by Basel architects Herzog & de Meuron, is unmatched anywhere in the world. Its location in central Basel and its perfect public transport links make Basel's trade fair ground into a popular meeting point for young and old alike, and not just during the Autumn Fair but throughout the year as a whole. Ultimately, it is thanks to the good and successful working relationship enjoyed with the public authorities that major events attracting several hundred thousand visitors can be held on Exhibition Square every year without any problems.

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