From Somerset to the Sahara: Glastonbury may become Timbuktu's twin

To casual observers, Timbuktu is a bit like Glastonbury without the mud: an ancient town, renowned for its remoteness, spiritual history, and world-famous music festival.

In future, they could have even more in common. Yesterday, the Somerset market town emerged as a leading contender in the competition to provide Timbuktu with a British twin.

The Cultural Mission of Timbuktu announced that Glastonbury was one of three finalists shortlisted from more than fifty UK towns and cities which applied for the post after reading about the vacancy in The Independent last month.

Along with the other finalists - Hay-on-Wye and York - Glastonbury will be visited by politicians from the west African city in early December. A winner is expected to be announced before Christmas.

In common with the other shortlisted towns, Glastonbury has already fulfiled several important criteria from a list of guidelines for prospective twin towns published by the government of Mali.

As well as having once been "an important trade hub" and "centre of learning," the town boasts a "love of the written word," together with "unique architecture" and a "cosmopolitan mindset".

The parallels don't end there. Where Glastonbury provides a destination for pilgrims to the oldest Christian church in Britain, Timbuktu is home to a world-famous collection of mud mosques.

Glastonbury's unique architecture is protected by English Heritage. Timbuktu has been looked after by Unesco, which declared the town a World Heritage Site in 1998.

Both towns are also a favoured destination of followers of the New Age movement. Timbuktu provides a venue for an ethnic music festival organised each year by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame; Glastonbury's blowout is organised by the farmer Michael Eavis.

The competition to find a twin town was launched after officials from the Cultural Mission of Timbuktu discovered that one in three young Britons was unaware of their town's existence. Most of the remaining 66 per cent polled either thought Timbuktu was "a mythical place" or believed it to be in South America.

A winner is to be chosen by Ali Ould Sidi, the head of the mission, after a tour of the shortlisted towns scheduled to take place next month. He said yesterday that York, Glastonbury and Hay-on-Wye were all worthy finalists in the contest, which is intended to raise the profile of the town.

"The three finalists most accurately match the spirit of Timbuktu, and I am very pleased to have found such similarities in Britain," he said. "The decision of who wins will be very difficult indeed."

In keeping with the spirit of competition, all three of the shortlisted towns have already begun sprucing themselves up in preparation for Mr Ould Sidi's visit. Hay-on-Wye decorated its high street yesterday with bunting in Mali's national colours.

"We have put a huge flag across the road reading 'From Hay to Timbuktu'," said Anne Brichto, who is organising the town's campaign. "The cultural lessons we can learn from them, and they can learn from us, is far wider than you'd ever get with a European twin town."

Glastonbury is expected to emphasise its status as a spiritual destination its pitch to win the contest. The town has a wide range of healers and New Age shops.

York, the biggest of the three destinations, claims to have the most interesting civic history, and the strongest parallels with Timbuktu's tradition of trade and interesting architecture.

The British photographer Stuart Redler will announce the result of the contest on Wednesday. He is acting as an adviser to the Cultural Mission on the project, because Mali does not have an embassy in the UK.

"We had a staggering amount of people applying from all corners of the country, but I think the finalists are a pretty good choice," he said.

"It's not for me to say which I think is the best, but having visited Mali, I can see that they all have something important in common with Timbuktu."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick