Historical note

The Department of English is housed in two mediaeval buildings framing a courtyard on Nadelberg, two minutes from Market Square. The older building, at the back of the cobbled yard, is also the oldest non-ecclesiastical stone building in Basel that has survived the devastating earthquake of 1356. It was already called "Schönes Haus" ("Beautiful House") when it was first mentioned in a document in 1294, because of its wealth and decorative splendour. For centuries it continued to be the home of rich citizens, among them Rudolph Wettstein, who represented the Swiss at the Peace of Westphalia negotiations in 1648; the coat-of-arms over one of the portals is that of the Karger family, who owned the building in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Council of Basel (1431-49) church dignitaries were entertained in the Great Hall on the ground floor, notable for its painted ceiling (the oldest non-ecclesiastical one in Switzerland); it serves as a lecture theatre today. Guests lodged in the building included Duke Philip of Burgundy (1454), Duke Albrecht of Bavaria (1473), and Prince John of Orange (1479).

In the 1960s the buildings (including adjacent Nadelberg 8) were carefully restored, and given to the university in 1968. In one of the rooms on the second floor, which now serves the Department of English as a library, a Gothic wooden ceiling saved from the ruins of another building was added. The cellar of the "Schönes Haus" was converted into a studio theatre, which is run by the Department of English and home to our student drama group since 1968.