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The Town Of Viganella in Italy Built Its Own Artificial Sun

by Alisha Upadhyay

The Town Of Viganella in Italy Built Its Own Artificial Sun

June 20, 2021

Technology ables a dark town to acquire sunlight through an artificial sun built through mirrors

A town where the sun doesn’t rise for 3 months of the year sounds apocalyptic. The town of Viganella, on the Swiss-Italian border, is experiencing similar conditions. Viganella, which is clinging to the edge of a steep valley and surrounded by mountains that obstruct the sun’s rays, It is deprived of sunlight from November to February every year. But now technology has abled them to take a sigh of relief as they have built their own artificial sun.

 

According to historical records, the area was populated as early as the 13th century, implying that generations of residents have endured more than 800 winters in the dark. Every year, the community witnesses its final sunset on November 11th and waits for the rays to return on February 2nd. Residents dress in traditional garb and participate in pagan rituals to celebrate the return of the light on that day.

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The mirror was installed so that it could reflect the sunlight on the town of Viganella.

Making the Impossible Possible

Local architect Giacomo Bonzani proposed mounting a sundial on the church’s façade in 1999, but then-mayor Franco Midali rejected the plan. Instead, he ordered Bonzani to do the impossible: bring the sun to Viganella during the 83 days when the mountains are blocking it. How? By erecting a massive mirror on one of the town’s summits, and thus their journey to build an artificial sun started. 

With the help of Mayor Pierfranco Midali of Viganella, a total of 100,000 Euros was raised, and work on the mirror began in 2005. The 40 square meters, 1.1-tonne mirror was installed on the opposite slope of the mountain at an altitude of 1,100 meters in November 2006. Because the mirror is too tiny to illuminate the entire town, the main square in front of the church in Viganella was chosen. The mirror reflects sunlight for six hours a day, rotating to follow the sun’s motion in the sky thanks to a software program.

The artificial sun isn’t as strong as direct sunlight, but it’s enough to warm up the main square and provide natural light to the town’s dwellings. The mirror is only used in the winter and is kept covered the rest of the year.

An Inspiration

The concept of the artificial sun has a poetic side to it, even though it was built to tackle a very practical problem. In a 2008 interview, former mayor Midali noted that the initiative’s notion does not have a scientific basis, but a personal one.  It stems from a desire to allow people to socialize throughout the winter when the town closes due to the cold and darkness.

 

Viganella’s success influenced cities all around the world. After a crew of engineers visited Viganella to inspect the mirror on-site, a similar mirror was installed in Rjukan, a valley in south-central Norway, in 2013.

 

While there are many examples of solar mirrors throughout history, from Archimedes’ mirror, which is claimed to have destroyed a fleet of Roman ships at Syracuse, to its employment in modern space telescopes. Viganella’s effort feels unique and charming. It is valued highly by the locals, who will bask in the light of their artificial sun for decades.

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