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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Search on for Timbuktu's twin
Mud mosque of Djenne (Stuart Redler)
The mud mosque of Djenne, a World Heritage site (Stuart Redler)
The hunt is on to find a British twin town for the city of Timbuktu, in the west African country of Mali.

The search has been launched by a photographer Stuart Redler to mark the start of his exhibition of images from the country.

He has teamed up with the Cultural Mission of Timbuktu over the twinning project which he hopes will help raise awareness of the city.

UK towns, cities and villages can be nominated online to twin with Timbuktu.

Malian officials will invite the winning town's senior residents and politicians to visit and learn about Timbuktu.

People and architecture

Cultural mission chief Ali Ould Sidi said potential twin towns can draw parallels with Timbuktu by having a history of being a trade hub and centre of learning, an affinity with the written word, unique architecture and a cosmopolitan background.

The city became very wealthy in the Middle Ages as an important trading centre
Muslim scholars from Sankore University helped spread Islam across west Africa
Djingareyber mosque, built from mud in 1325 AD, still stands
The Ahmed Baba Centre has a collection of manuscripts containing more than 1,000 years of Islamic knowledge
It has been a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage site since 1988
Scot Gordon Laing was the first European explorer to arrive, in 1826

Timbuktu is already twinned with a Chemnitz in Germany, Saintes in France, Marrakech in Morocco, Kairouan in Tunisia, and Tempe in the US.

The exhibition, entitled Timbuktu to W2, features a new series of black and white photographs exploring the people, architecture and nature of Mali.

The same pictures will appear in a simultaneous exhibition in the African city.

'Mythical place'

Mr Redler, who comes from Taunton in Somerset, said many Britons are a unaware of the existence of Timbuktu, let alone its culture, history and achievements.

A survey of 150 young people undertaken ahead of the exhibition found 34% did not think Timbuktu existed, and the remaining 66% considered it to be "a mythical place".

Drought-affected tree in Mali (Stuart Redler)
Drought has affected the Malian landscape (Stuart Redler)

Mr Redler said: "It is with that in mind that we have launched this project, hoping to raise awareness for Mali, anchor the geographical knowledge and demythification of Timbuktu in the public mind and plant the seeds for a great cross-cultural encounter."

Bids to twin with Timbuktu must be received on the exhibition's website by 15 November.


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