Nellie the Elephant went there, we think – although that may have been Manadalay – and that’s about as much we know. But town-twinning is fantastic, just think about all the perks we get being twined with Frankfurt. Chicago, not so much.

According to the Beeb, 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. Doesn’t that just sound like us?


  • 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. Marrakech, I’ve heard of, and I can think of the odd reason we should be twinned with there too.

According to the BBC “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”.”, now without suggesting that mythical and non-existance are the same thing, that’s about how the London-centric media see us.

We’ve filled in the form on the website, and you can too – nominate Brum and help us join hands across the ocean, and all that.

Here’s how we’ve answered their questions:

The parallels between Timbuktu and Birmingham.


  • The city became very wealthy in the Middle Ages as an important trading centre
  • Scholars spread all sorts of religions, and other stuff.
  • The Central mosque, built in 1969 AD, was then officially opened in 1975 as the largest mosque in Western Europe.
  • BM&AG has a very large collection of Pre Raphaelites
  • Birmingham has been ‘Europe’s Shopping Capital’ since the Bull Ring re-opened in 2004
  • Benny out of Crossroads comes from here.

A. History of being an important trade hub.

At the centre of the UK’s canal system, Birmingham was the manufacturing heartland of the country during the industrial revolution, back when the country manufactured things.

B. History of being an important centre of learning.

Birmingham University was founded in 1900 as a successor to Mason Science College, and is thus the earliest of the so-called “red brick” universities. A major research-led institution, it currently has nearly 17,000 undergraduate and 7,000 postgraduate students. We’ve got three, count-em, Universities in total now.

C. Love of the written word.

Brum has had many famous authors, and has a huge Central Library. We think the scripts for Crossroads were written here too.

D. Unique Archetecture

The 160,000 square foot Selfridges store, designed by architects Future Systems, is covered in 15,000 spun aluminium discs. There is also the Rotunda, the Venician-style Council House and the National Trust’s Victorian Back to Backs.

C. Cosmopolitan Mindset

Birmingham is the first city in the UK to have 50% of its population not of white British background. There are huge West Indian, South Asian and North African communites, as well as increasing numbers from other European countries.

Well – what do you think? Help us twin with Timbuktu – and talk about it on the forums…

Author: Jon Bounds

Jon was voted the ‘14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands’ in 2008. Subsequently he has not been placed. He’s been a football referee, venetian blind maker, cellar man, and a losing Labour council candidate: “No, no chance. A complete no-hoper” said a spoilt ballot. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama performed on Twitter when he persuaded a cast including MPs and journalists to give over their timelines to perform Twitpanto. But all that is behind him.