I’ve just come back from Basel, where I joined the Wasteland Warriors for the sci-fi/comic/fantasy convention “Fantasy Basel”. I’m still rounding up the pictures which is why next week’s blog is about the convention itself and today’s is about monsters. 😉
Wearing my Cthulhu leggings by total coincidence. Thankyou for the photo, Gecko.
I’d never made the connection with the name before but Basel’s mascot animal is the basilisk- a monstrous snakelike creature part reptile and part bird. They are ALL OVER Basel!!
It’s ‘the horror within’ the Chamber of Secrets in JK Rowling’s second Harry Potter book and kills by making eye contact. There are a set of circumstances that must happen in order to create a basilisk. It must be hatched from a snake (or toad) egg placed beneath an old rooster and the egg must hatch at midnight on a clear night shortly before the rooster dies. Some claimed that the star Sirus must also be ascending (which sent me into a geekgasm- the book after “the Chamber of Secrets” is “the Prisoner of Azkaban”… which introduces new character Sirius Black) though I think the idea that spiders fear it is one of Rowling’s own as I haven’t found it said anywhere else. Legend says the only creature that can kill a basilisk is the weasel- which is probably based on fact; mongooses look weaselly and eat poisonous snakes.
Cute but badass! Photo from Wikipedia.
Some of us arrived in the city a day before we set up in the convention hall, so we went exploring. We were racing against a storm so only discovered a tiny portion of the city but in the few short hours we had, it was very clear that every few feet there would be some kind of monster watching from walls, on signs and carved into churches. Every so often, we found a fountain, guarded by a basilisk and also providing a small bowl of water for animals.
Not my photos- by the time I realised they were a recurring theme I’d already passed several. (Photos from Wikipedia and Tripadvisor)
So why Basel? The whole story isn’t recorded anywhere but the city officially connected itself with the creatures in the 1400s and there are depictions of basilisks from around AD 1170. Legend says that a basilisk lived in a cave underneath the city’s Gerber-Brunnen fountain and though I passed very close to the area, I sadly never came across the fountain, which has a plaque telling the story of the creature lying beneath and sits by an area called “Labyrinthplatz”. I love the idea that under the fountain lies this ancient labyrinth, maybe full of bones and discarded scales…
Can you spot the two watching me? 😉
The job of a heraldic animal is to hold a coat of arms- it’s a great honour. A monument which is currently lost shows the basilisk holding Basel’s coat of arms, in memorial to a devastating earthquake in 1356. The description reads “Basilisk, you poisonous worm and fable, now you shall hold the shield of the dignified city of Basel“.
‘Noble’ creatures like eagles, dragons, lions and canines like wolves and greyhounds appear on heraldry most often so it’s a very odd choice to have an animal famous for being able to kill many things in many ways! They could kill by making eye contact, touching their victim, or touching something that is touching their victim (like a sword in a hand). The poor basilisk could even scorch plants simply by existing nearby.
Strange then, that a creature so feared represents such a quiet, safe city- and it was feared: an actual cockerel was sentenced to death in 1474 for apparently laying an egg!! The people of Basel were afraid it might be a basilisk so beheaded the cockerel and threw the egg into the fire. Nobody thought to check so we still don’t know if the egg was a basilisk or not. 😛
Now, almost every company or business in the city is named after the creature- there are Basilisk taxis, a Basilisk Hotel, restaurants ‘Basilisk’ and even a Basilisk Beer.
You’d think that was enough on the ‘monster’ scene in the city but nope- Basel Minster church has a lovely, ridiculous collection of carved animals that were clearly made by people who had never actually seen the animal before. There’s also a ‘George and the dragon’ decoration which looks like George missed the dragon and got the princess’s Westie-poodle instead. 😉
The elephant! It looks like a blobfish mated with a dachsund and somehow a worm got in on the action! Look at the pugs! <3
This is the front:
I never managed to get a photo of the roof but check this out!
When we made contact with another group we’d split from, it turned out they had been just around the corner. While we’d been looking at this red church, the others had found a black one (Elisabethenkirche), covered in menacing, beautiful, traditional gargoyles! There was an event going on so we stuck our heads around the door then scuttled off again. I can never get enough of gawking at church decorations like this!
As you can see, the storm was coming in quickly so we spent our last few minutes outside looking at this disturbing fountain. It’s plotting something.
I mean… look at it. Just LOOK AT IT!
When the world ends, the poor little basilisks, dragons, wyverns, wyrms, assorted monsters and other creatures in Basel will be running with the rest of us. These thingies will rise up on spindly legs and do something horrible. I don’t know what exactly but It. Will. Be. Horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We jumped back on the tram (public transport is great here) and spent the rest of the day eating pizza, listening to music and catching up. There were so many places I missed or didn’t know about- but as I’ll be back next year, I’ll tell you all about them then. 😉
Next blog is about Fantasy Basel… where we get ready for the inevitable sentient-fountain-basilisk apocalypse. 😛