The Town Hall has been located in this place since the 14th century, well away from the seat of the former ruler of the city, the Prince-Bishop, who resided on the Cathedral Hill. This separation shows that the burghers of the town, with their growing economic strength in the 14th century, sought independence from the bishop. It was also the craftsmen organised into 15 guilds who, in 1501, carried through the council's decision to join the Swiss Confederation.
To mark this occasion, at the beginning of the 16th century the front part of the existing city hall was replaced by a prestigious new building. The battlements were adorned, in coloured surrounds, with the arms of the 12 cantons including Basel that then constituted the Confederation. At the beginning of the 17th century the Rathaus was enlarged and the now bigger facade was painted by Hans Bock with mock architectural features.
In 1900, the Rathaus underwent a further extension, with the addition of the wing on the extreme left and the tower on the right. At the same time the old rear building dating from the 14th century was demolished and replaced by a new structure. This was the period of historicism, when architects played with elements of past styles. The structural forms of the old parts were incorporated into the new buildings, but the decorations are already in what was then the latest style, Art Nouveau.
At the time of the transition from historicism to the Art Nouveau style, almost all the old burghers' houses around the Marktplatz were replaced by larger buildings. One surviving building in the Renaissance style is the house of the vintners' guild, known as the Geltenzunft, whose members were wine merchants and taverners. They were held in high esteem, for wine, like bread, was one of the most important daily foods and the vintners supervised its quality.