Mirrors rescue sun-starved residents of Norwegian village
SHOTLIST RJUKAN, NORWAY, OCTOBER 30, 2013, (SOURCE AFP) -MS Artist Martin Andersen passes by the cam, pan to the top of a mountain where mirrors are placed -MS Artist Martin Andersen inaugurates the giant mirrors ("Solspeilet") installed on the hillside - WS aerial of the mirrors and the valley of Rjukan /// ----------------------------------------------------------- / Rjukan (Norway) - 30 October 2013 AFP (Pierre-Henry DESHAYES) Sun-starved residents of a remote Norwegian village unveiled an ingenious mirror system Wednesday to bring natural light to their mountain valley home, enveloped in darkness for half of the year. Hundreds of villagers sporting sun glasses fixed their gaze on three giant mirrors, perched on a 400 metre high moutain peak eagerly waiting for the sunbeams to illuminate their little square. The sun kept them waiting but eventually peered out from behind the clouds to deliver the first -- much coveted, though far from dazzling -- rays of early winter sunlight. The mountains surrounding the village of Rjukan are far from Himalayan, but they are high enough to deprive its 3,500 inhabitants of direct sunlight for six months every year, until local artist Martin Andersen revived a century old idea to construct giant mirrors. "From now now we'll have a sun festival every day," he told AFP, referring to local celebrations which take place each year when the village finally emerges from darkness. Almost the entire village turned out for the first day -- 2,500 according to the organisers -- parking deck chairs and parasols in sand shipped in for the event as a band struck up a rendition of "Let the Sun Shine." From school children with their faces painted with yellow suns to police officers who dusted off sun glasses normally put away for the winter by now, local residents could not recall a time when so many people were in the streets. Despite strong reservations from some, five million kroner (615,000 euro, $849,000) was raised -- 80 percent from sponsors -- to installs the three 17-square-metre (183-square-feet) mirrors that now tower over the north side of Rjukan village. A computer controls the mirrors so that they follow the sun to reflect the light on the market square, lighting up a 600-square-metre (6,459-square-feet) elliptical area. "It's pretty amazing," exclaimed Bjarne Randlev, a pensioner who has lived his entire life in Rjukan. "I would never have imagined I'd see the sun here at this time if the year." "Feels like you're in the south" Free from school for the day, Antonio Luraas Navarro had more mixed feelings: "It feels like you're in the south with this light. But you know, it's a bit too cold," he said, jumping up an down to warm up. Besides getting more cheerful citizens, the locality -- already known for skiing -- also hopes to capitalise on the extensive media coverage of the feat to bring in even more tourists. "We're looking for both," said Steinar Bergsland, the mayor of this former industrial municipality, founded more than a century ago thanks to the ingenuity of a hydro-powered entrepreneur. Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde founded the corporation Norsk Hydro which gave birth to Rjukan village, the site of an enormous waterfall harnessed to provide energy for a chemical fertiliser factory. From just 300 inhabitants spread out across scattered farms in 1900, the population grew to 10,000 by 1913. At that time Eyde already had the idea of deflecting sunlight into the valley with huge mirrors but lacked the technology to do it. Instead he built a cable car, which is still in use, to allow his employees to recharge their vitamin D levels with sunlight on a mountain top. Today the factory is gone and far fewer live in the area but local residents hope the mirrors will herald a new era of prosperity. "More tourists means more business for retailers, services and hotels," said local mayor Bergsland. But he is not content to stop there, keen to remind the world that this was also the site of a spectacular Second World War sabotage operation which destroyed a Nazi chemical plant, key to Germany's atom bomb aspirations. Now the municipality believes it is long overdue for inclusion on the Unesco World Heritage List in 2015, as an example of human industrial genius. All that remains is to demonstrate that the mirrors will do their job and continue lighting up the village square through the long dark winter months. A similar system of mirrors has been tried out in the small municipality of Viganella in northern Italy but according to a local official once the initial enthusiasm died down tourist numbers also dwindled. phy/ts
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