Basilisk Fountain

Location: Munsterburg, Basel, Switzerland

The Basilisk was a mythical hybrid creature hatched from a chicken’s egg by a lizard. They were believed to live near streams and could run across the water on their hind legs when frightened. For this reason they were also known as “Jesus Christ” lizards. With the head, comb, and body of a cockerel, and the neck, tail and wings of a dragon it was named the King of Serpents because of the comb/crown on its head. Only 12 inches long it was deadly and caused plants to wither and anyone looking directly at it to die.

It was also blamed for causing an earthquake in the 14th century and compelled to become the shield bearer of the city, “Basilisk, you poisonous worm and fable, now you shall hold the shield of the dignified city of Basel.” The shield is comprised of the Bishop of Basel’s crozier (a stylized staff of office carried by high ranking religious leaders, and a crozier is the crook of the shepherd. The crozier hook was used to pull back people straying from the faith, and the three points at the bottom of the crozier were used to goad the spiritually lazy.)

As with all fables, good always wins over evil. One day a young girl named Magdalene was on her way to fetch water at the well when she saw frantic people running towards her. A friend explained their terror and warned her of the basilisk. As she listened, Magdalene polished her pail with her apron until it shone like a mirror. Putting it over her head she walked towards the well. The basilisk, upon catching sight of his reflection in the pail, shrivelled up and died.

The winning entry of a water fountain design competition in 1884, initiated by the city of Basel, incorporated a basilisk. It was created by William Bubeck, an artist and architect. A casting was made, and although 50 fountains were manufactured and displayed throughout the city, only 28 currently remain.

The fountain has a square base with a small fluted basin at ground level for the use of dogs. The pedestal with attic base supports an urn with bas-relief depicting a garland strung through rings. The large basin in the form of a kylix is elaborately decorated with garland, harvest fruits and a shell fret. It is also supported by four consoles in the form of a sea monster with the head of a lion and an eel-like body with fish scales. The finial is a Basilisk with outspread wings, water flows from its mouth into the basin, and one claw supports the shield of Basel.

On the first of January each year, the water in the Basilisk fountain on Munsterberg Street flows with ale to celebrate the New Year. The tradition began when a guild of craftsmen attached the underground water pipe to a beer keg.

The design of this fountain was also sold and distributed throughout parts of Europe and can be seen in France, Germany, and Austria.

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Glossary:

  • Attic base, a column base with two rings
  • Bas-relief, sculpted material that has been raised from the background to create a slight projection from the surface
  • Console, a decorative bracket support element
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Fret, running or repeated ornament
  • Kylix, a Grecian style drinking cup
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
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Posted on July 14, 2015, in Architecture, Cast Iron, Drinking Fountain, Switzerland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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