How To Make Your Own Sun

The Italian town of Viganella had a problem — the sun would disappear from November 11th until February 2nd every winter. Normally this only occurs to communities inside the Artic and Antarctic Circles, but Viganella is unique in that respect — it sits at the bottom of a steep, v-shaped valley at the border with Switzerland. Thus the surrounding mountains block sunlight for most of the winter.

This has been going on for about 800 years. Finally, the 163 inhabitants had had enough. They installed a huge mirror on one of the peaks above the town to reflect light into its main square. This mirror isn’t as big as you might imagine; it measures eight meters wide and five meters tall at a cost of €100,000. A software program enables it to track the sun, reflecting the light for six hours a day. Of course, this reflected light is not as intense as direct sunlight, but it does warm up the main square and gives homes some natural light. It’s only used in winter and remains covered when not needed.

The project also appeals in a poetic sense. “The idea behind the project doesn’t have a scientific basis, but a human one,” said Franco Midali, who was mayor at that time, in a 2008 interview. “It comes from a desire to let people socialize in winter when the town shuts down due to the cold and the dark.”

Since the mirror began functioning on December 17, 2006, it has generated a fair amount of interest from communities with the same problem. In 2013, a similar system was installed in the valley town of Rjukan, Norway.  The Icelandic village of Seydisfjördur is another candidate. 

This is more proof that necessity is the mother of invention, even if it takes a few centuries.

Taken from “The Italian Town That Built Its Own Sun” by Giacomo Raffaelli (

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