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iganella is an Italian town located on the Alps, in the region Piedmont. As of December 2010, it had a population of 204. You might think that Viganella is a small mountain town just like many others, but you would be wrong. There is something more, something extraordinary. Until 2006, the town used to remain shadowed for eighty-three days per year — from November 11 to February 2. Viganella was built at the bottom of a steep-sided valley; therefore, in that period, the sun disappears. It hides behind one of the mountains that surround the town.

In 2005, the then-mayor Franco Midali and an architect named Giacomo Bonzani began to work on an ambitious enterprise. Those two hundred inhabitants could not bear those dark cold days any longer. As a consequence, Midali and Bonzani started to consider the plausibility of making the mayor’s dream come true. That dream, as you might have guessed, was bringing the sun back to Viganella.

The Project

Giacomo Bonzani designed a giant mirror with a controlled orientation to be placed above the mountainside. That giant mirror would have consisted of fourteen sheets of steel measuring eight meters of width and five meters of height. The mirror was designed to automatically turn to keep reflecting the sunlight towards the town square. On a winter sunny day, the mirror would have granted the town from five to six hours of sunlight.

An easy explanation of the project (Source: BBC News)

No one on Earth had already realized a project like that. When Franco Midali asked the regional government 100,000 euros to build the mirror, the governor refused to give the mayor the funds. The dream was still a dream. To the regional government, Midali and his fellow citizens looked like a handful of naive dreamers.

Popularity

However, by the end of 2005, something changed. Thanks to the internet, the enterprise became incredibly popular all around the world. Journalists, camera operators, and photographers went to Viganella to be told the story of the project. Daniel Sandford, an English journalist, was told by Giacomo Bonzani that: “In theory, it could be snowing in the village, but so long as the sun was out further up the valley, Viganella’s piazza could have snow and sunshine at the same time*.”

The mirror  (Source: La Stampa)

When the world found out about the giant mirror’s project, the regional government could not help giving the necessary funds. On December 17, 2006, Franco Midali, Giacomo Bonzani, and the rest of Viganella’s citizens unveiled the mirror. For the first time since Viganella’s foundation — which had occurred eight centuries earlier — the sun heated the town square in the winter.

In 2015, the mirror was not used because of a lack of maintenance. The following year, it was fixed and Viganella’s citizens began to enjoy some sunshine once again. The same kind of technology (that is, a mirror reflecting the sun) has been used since 2013 in Rjukan, a Norwegian town. Rjukan gets dark from September to March, and thus, it uses many mirrors to reflect more sunlight. However, everything started in Viganella, an Italian village next to the Swiss border, and with its mayor, Franco Midali, one of those dreamers who are capable of making the sun appear, even if it could not.

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