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How an Italian Village Uses a Giant Mirror for Sunlight

The inhabitants of Viganella, a northern Italian village, built a giant sunlight mirror in 2006 to provide light to the shadow-casted town.

The eight-by-five meter giant sunlight mirror sitting on the side of a mountain in the Italian Alps. Image: DW News/YouTube

Viganella, a small village in northern Italy, has only about 200 inhabitants. Located in the Antrona Valley with steep mountains that prevent sunlight from reaching the village for a 3-month period during the winter, the residents decided to build a giant mirror to curb the dreary months of darkness and isolation.

Viganella has a unique problem due to its location: for three months of the year, the residents get absolutely no sunlight in their village.

From the months of November to February, the Italian village that sits at the border of Italy and Switzerland receives no direct sunlight. This is due to the village’s location, nestled in a steep valley in the Italian Alps, where the tall mountains cast shadows that prevent sunlight from peaking in.

From November 11th to February 2nd, the Italian village goes without sunlight, but February 2nd marks a day of celebration. On this day, the people of Viganella wear their traditional clothing and partake in rituals.

Science has shown how low levels of sunlight during the changing seasons can lead to a form of depression called SAD, which stands for seasonal affective disorder. Not getting enough sunlight also leads to problems like low Vitamin D levels.

The importance of receiving sunlight during the winter months led a former mayor to call for the construction of a reflective mirror to gather the Sun’s rays and bring them down to the village’s center.

Old cottages and homes in the town of Viganella
View of the town of Viganella on a sunny autumn day. Credit: Shutterstock/Iurii Kazakov

How the mirror was built

In 1999, former mayor Franco Midali asked a local architect, Giacomo Bonzani, if he could help bring sunlight to the village with the creation of this mountaintop mirror. This mirror was designed by Bonzani, along with the help of engineer Gianni Ferrari.

This mirror is made of steel sheets, acting as a heliostat to track the Sun’s movements and reflect the sunlight down on the town’s square. It also contains computer-operated motors to help with positioning and orientation. A software program helps the mirror to rotate and follow the Sun’s path.

On December 17, 2006, Viganella completed its construction of said mirror.

A man in a construction hat overseeing the construction of the giant mirror for Viganella's sunlight.
Workers put together the giant mirror made of sheets of steel. Credit: Youtube/The Voice Of Sikkim

The European village Rjukan, in Norway, located in another deep valley, also struggled with a similar issue when it came to daily sunlight in the winter. In 2013, Rjukan finished building three giant mirrors that sit erect on the mountainside, reflecting sunlight into the town square.

Three panel mirrors sitting on the side of. a mountain reflecting sunlight.
The Norwegian village of Rjukan installed similar sunlight mirrors after being inspired by Viganella. Credit: Youtube/Euronews Next

Similar to the operation of the mirror in Viganella, the three mirrors in Rjukan contain heliostats to control their movement relative to the Sun’s in order to keep the sun reflecting on the village’s center. These mirrors are also run by computer-driven software.

Rjukan completed their village’s mirrors in mid-October of 2013.

The mirror’s impact

This giant mirror has now been overlooking Viganella for 17 years, offering the villagers a more positive outlook when thinking about the coming winter months.

“The idea behind the project doesn’t have a scientific basis, but a human one. It comes from a desire to let people socialize in winter when the town shuts down due to the cold and the dark,” said former mayor Pierfranco Midali in a 2008 interview.

This technological innovation from 2006 for the people of Viganella helps them to reimagine their lives during the cold, dark months of the winter. Human connection is important during changing seasons and months that can sometimes feel isolated in the cold, and that’s precisely what the Italian village of Viganella was able to help solve by building this giant mirror.

Sunlight shining down from a hill onto the village
Sunlight reflected from the giant mirror shines down on the Italian village. Credit: Youtube/DW News

Additionally, the village had problems keeping population levels up, so having this new addition to their community has helped them with this concern.

If you found this Italian mirror innovation interesting, you should check out how a house in the Swiss Alps is covered entirely in mirrors! The Mirage Gstaad can capture beautiful Switzerland scenery via several mirrors.

Future technological innovations such as the ones discussed above can continue to offer new solutions for problems worldwide and do not need to be limited to only wealthier or larger populations.

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Hello, my name is Mia Jones, I'm from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but I'm currently studying Magazine Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication. I am also pursuing a Spanish minor in addition to that, and I'm apart of the Fashion & Beauty Communications Milestone program through Newhouse and the Visual & Performing Arts program at Syracuse. I absolutely love to write and create content, and I'm interested in writing about current events, trending topics, fashion, mental health/wellness, pop culture, and politics. Ideally, I would love to write, edit, or manage for a major editorial someday in a big city.

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