Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (Hotel of the Three Kings) in Basel, until 1986 usually identified by its German-language name, Hotel drei Könige, is sometimes cited as one of Switzerland’s oldest hotels. It is located on the left bank of the Rhine, a few paces downstream of the city’s first bridge across the river.

1903 Hotel les Trois Rois (in 1904).

Before the railways were built, the Rhine was the most important trade artery in western Europe, and Basel was the principal terminal point at its southern end. Beside the transshipment jetties where merchandise was off-loaded from the boats on the northeast bank of the river, there was already a guest house, identified in 1255 as “domus zem blumen in vico crucis” “(House of Flowers at the cross street)”, which was probably a decade or so after the ferry crossings of the river were complemented at this point by a road bridge. However, the guest house and adjacent buildings had to be demolished after the 1356 earthquake.

1903 Hotel les Trois Rois.

The first surviving record of a hotel on this site with its modern name dates from 1681, where the “Drei Könige” Inn was identified as a place where itinerant merchants lodged. The name “Drei Könige” means “Three kings” and is a popular name for city hotels in Switzerland and southern Germany. It is thought to be a reference to the Magi (popularly, “Three Kings”) who visited Jesus shortly after His birth: the Magi, like the merchants who stayed overnight in medieval hotels, were notable for the precious merchandise they carried with them.

1903 Hotel les Trois Rois.

In 1841-1842 the entire site was acquired by Johann Jakob Senn, hitherto a successful master tailor who foresaw possibilities for a massive expansion in leisure travel that would follow from the revolutions in transportation brought about by the river steamer and the coming of the railways. Senn demolished the hotel and had it rebuilt in a much more luxurious style, employing the fashionable Basel architect Amadeus Merian (de) to design what would later be seen as an early example of Belle Époque architecture. The rebuilt hotel reopened on 16 February 1844. From then on it would present itself as a “Grand Hotel”, with a guest list that included many leading figures from the worlds of politics and the arts.

In 1915 the southern block of the hotel building was sold to the Basler Kantonalbank and renovated appropriately. Twenty-three years later, in 1938, the bankers moved out and this building became the City Tourist Information Office. In 2004 the hotel, together with the block that had been separated off and sold to the bank in 1915, was acquired by entrepreneur and dental implants magnate Thomas Straumann.

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

The composer and conductor Pierre Boulez was awakened by police at six in the morning in his room at the Hotel Les Trois Rois late in 2001; the officers confiscated his passport and disappeared. In 1967, Boulez had given an interview to Der Spiegel in which he said that “the opera houses should be blown up”. The law enforcement officials picked up on it during a routine check of hotel guest registrations. The passport was returned after a few days.

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