The colourful parade launches three days of partying and festivities for the traditional Fasnacht, held every year in the week after Ash Wednesday.
Lights in the city centre were switched off for the parade of lantern bearers, accompanied by drummers and piccolo players.
A round of processions with floats and costumed participants is to follow, with concerts including performances by “Gugge” (brass bands), a lantern exhibition, children’s carnival and 24-hour-a-day revery in Basel’s clubs and bars.
Every year, the carnival takes on a different theme.
This year it is linked to a proposed union of the Basel-City and Basel-Country cantons.
The title is: “My place or yours?” — in German, “Zu mir oder zu dir.”
The Fasnacht organizing committee estimated that 12,000 participants are involved in this year’s event, the SDA news agency reported.
The protestant carnival winds up on Thursday at 4am.
It follows a round of other carnivals held in catholic and protestant regions across Switzerland.
While many maintain religious links, one in Moudon, a historic town in the canton of Vaud with Celtic and Roman roots, runs a unique event called “Les Brandons” that seems to be unrelated to either religion.
The festival calls itself the “craziest in Rome-andie” — a reference to its Roman roots and Romandie, the name for French-speaking Switzerland.
This year, it is garnering a lot of attention in the Swiss press because its guest of honour is Clara Morgane, a former French porn star and TV presenter for porn movies on France’s Canal Plus.
A procession at the carnival on Sunday attracted 17,913 paying spectators, 20 Minutes reported.