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
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
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: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore