Viganella, the town that found sunlight
or more than 80 days a year, Viganella, a small Italian village, found itself immersed in darkness, without sunlight. In the meantime, Huelva was enjoying the sun 190 days a year, making it the sunniest city in Spain. Under the slogan ‘Light Gathering’, the cities decided to share this treasure. Light twinned them.
In the late 19th century, different alternatives for lighting Viganella had already been considered, but it wasn’t until a decade ago when the solution became tangible for this town in north Italy, located about 130km from Milan. Its position, on the edge of Antrona Valley, means the sun doesn’t reach it between November and February. But, a shared passion for sundials and a desire to get its 200 inhabitants out of darkness, led the mayor, Pier Franco Midali, and an architect, Giacomo Bonzani, to find a way to illuminate it.
A tourist attraction
“Before, the streets were empty,” the mayor of Viganella remembers, “and now it’s an attraction, which has brought lots of bed and breakfasts with it”. But Italy is not the only country to promote the mirror story. Don’t forget Huelva, which, along with Cadiz, forms the Spanish Costa de la Luz.
“We got a map of the city and I asked the architect to find the formula to bring the sun to us,” explains the mayor. That was in 2006. “We put it into practice. It was like magic,” he remembers. It involves a pulley system and a mirror— five metres high by eight metres wide—, which, when positioned high enough in the mountain—at nearly 900 metres —receives the sun’s rays and reflects them, illuminating Viganella.
A journey into the light, which they didn’t make alone. That year, the Huelva Tourism Board was looking for ways to attract tourism to the Costa de la Luz (coast of light). They thought Viganella was the perfect metaphor and decided to support the project. This symbolic support materialised in a party from Andalusia visiting the Italian village on the day the mirror was inaugurated.
A Norwegian twin
Almost 500 metres up high, in a small village called Rjukan, another mirror reigns. A town in south Norway, tired of spending six months of the year in darkness, opted for the same method as Viganella in order to bring sunlight to its residents.
The opening was a success, as were the respective campaigns to promote tourism. Huelva attracted tourists looking for light and sun. José Prieto, head of the Board at that time, underlines how they said Huelva “had brought light to the Alps”. “It had a lot of media repercussions,” he comments.
Now, a decade later, the invention is still providing light. “It’s a lovely story. The mirror has been working for ten years, with hardly any technical maintenance needed,” says the mayor. They will celebrate this anniversary with a big event at the end of the year. “We’re preparing a party, and inviting the Spanish friends who helped us to come back.”
Viganella will always be ‘the village with the mirror’, but Midali underlines that it is also “a lovely place, with a church and an old mediaeval tower. The city gate and the old centre are stunning”. The mayor recommends ending the day in the village cantinas, where you can sample locally produced wines from the Piamonte region. It is a traditional village, because Viganella respects its roots, but one that, through imagination and technology, shines with its own light.