Basel’s Museum of Culture: Home of the World

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Museum of Cultures, Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland

Having realised that I’d not written about the Museum of Ancient Art, I also realised that I’d not written about the excellent Museum of Cultures.  Silly me.

The museum has its origins in the 1840s, when artworks and artefacts collected by travellers and merchants were donated to the city.  Over the years, scholars went on field trips to bring back material to enrich the collections, and now the museum has one of the important ethnographic collections in Europe.  It was renamed as the Museum of Cultures in 1996, and was extensively refurbished in 2011.

Museum of Cultures, Basel, Switzerland

Since the museum isn’t able to have all its objects on show, they hold a couple of exhibitions which look at specific themes.  I visited between exhibitions, so only saw one:  Sun, Moon and Stars, which looked at the way the universe shapes people on earth – from the way we create calendars, to the gods we worship.

But before we have a look at the two permanent exhibitions at the museum, it’s worth mentioning the stunning and incredibly tall Ceremonial House of the Abelam people of Papua New Guinea.  It dates from the 1960s and is just fascinating to look at.  The huge mask-like faces are of ancestors, who continue to play an important part in the lives of the living.  It’s particularly significant that these buildings are in museums, because the people of Abelam no longer make these houses, due to the fact that they are Christian and no longer practise in the traditional manner that required these structures.

Big: Things, Interpretations, Dimensions

The first permanent exhibition you visit looks at ‘bigness’.  It’s an interesting concept, as it ends up by covering so many aspects of life – from the size of a chicken ready to be sacrificed, to the status symbol that is the vast bark cloth.

Strawgold: Cultural Transformations Rendered Visible 

This is also a permanent exhibition.  It’s focus is on ‘cultural appropriation and transformation processes’.  I found this less interesting as it was all a bit too theoretical which rendered the subject examined too wide.

So In Summary

While I hoped that the museum would be quite interesting, I was very struck by just how well done the whole museum was.  There were plenty of fascinating objects and the curation was well done, incorporating objects from different cultures in a very logical and thoughtful way.  Next time I go to Basel, I will definitely check out their newest exhibition.

Further Information

The museum has a decent website in English: and an excellent gift shop.

How To Get There

The museum is right next to the Cathedral, and therefore is easy to get to by walking or public transport:


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