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Hat of Liberty

Key data

Basel, ca. 1798

Sheet metal, painted

L 100 x H 90 cm

Inv. 1894.38.


The laws passed at the time of the Reformation were still in force in 18th-century Basel. Country folk were excluded from all higher public offices and at least in theory were serfs of the city. Both Basel itself and the surrounding countryside had for centuries been ruled by several generations of the same few families. The revolutionary ideas sparked off by the French Revolution spread to Switzerland, too. The rural population of Canton Basel, for example, demanded equal rights with the city-dwellers and recognition of their human rights. The city met these demands on 20 January 1798 and on 22 January a feast was held in celebration of the newly forged fraternity. A new flag in the colours red, white and black was raised on the Rathaus to symbolize the new relationship between Basel city and the surrounding countryside. A giant Freiheitsbaum or “Tree of Liberty” was set up on the Münsterplatz in front of the cathedral and topped with a three-coloured metal hat. To judge by pictures of this feast as well as the cockade and red, white and black feathers decorating the hat and the fact that it was preserved in the Armoury, the hat shown here is probably the very same Freiheitshut or “Hat of Liberty” that topped the tree at the feast held on 22 January 1798.

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