Beginning at 04:00 on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and lasting exactly 72 hours, Basel Carnival, or Basler Fasnacht, is the largest carnival in Switzerland. Groups of musicians called 'Cliques' dress up in costumes and parade through the streets, lighting the way with headlamps and lanterns and banging drums and playing piccolos.
Over the course of the three days, fully masked and costumed participants take to the streets singing, playing instruments and throwing confetti. Two parades take place on the Monday and Wednesday, bringing together more than 18 000 costumed carnivalists in parades of fife and drum cliques, floats and carriages. Children have Tuesday dedicated to them with concerts, lantern exhibitions and other events taking place.
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The carnival also has a social and political element to it where all visual and rhetorical means are employed to make fun, satirical socio-political statements. Every year, around 20 000 people of all ages, social status', origins and political persuasion actively participate in the festival, which attracts 200 000 Swiss and foreign visitors. The rituals and costumes are so special that UNESCO added it to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2017.
If you're planning on checking out the carnival next year there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, it is considered to be really, really poor form to remove your mask at any time, for any reason, during the parade as this would break the attempt at relative anonymity. This is as serious as Mickey Mouse taking off his head at Disney World, so just don't do it.
Also, you're likely to find confetti in your hair and clothes for a while after the parades so prepare for that and don't throw a mixture of different confetti lest you be seen as throwing confetti you picked up off of the ground.
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Plan Your Trip to Basel, Switzerland:
- Do SA residents need a visa: Yes a Schengen visa is required - Read more about that here. It costs roughly R949,15 for short stay visas and R1566,11 for long stay visas (€60 and €99 respectively). Processing times vary.
- Currency & exchange rate: Euro - €1 = R15,82
- Main Airport: EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg
- Airlines that travel there: Air France, Air Mauritius, British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Linhas Aereas, Turkish Airlines and more. Search for flights here.