The Romans founded a colony in Raurica, east of Basel, in Celtic territory in 44 BC. By the time the city (Basileum) was first mentioned in 3rd-century-AD texts, they had established a fort on the heights around what is now the Münster as part of a defence system along the Rhine.

Medieval Basel changed hands repeatedly, passing from the Franks to Burgundy and later to the Habsburgs. In 1501 the city, which had increasingly come to be run by its powerful Zünfte (guilds), joined the Swiss Confederation.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Basel was a busy industrial, trade and banking hub, with the chemical and pharmaceutical industries already at the forefront of its burgeoning economy. Basel also has a long tradition as an arts centre. In the 1930s the Kunstmuseum acquired a priceless collection of modern works from Nazi Germany that Hitler and company considered to be ‘degenerate art’.