In many parts of the world, during the long winters, it can happen that one finds themselves in areas untouched by the Sun. This astronomical phenomenon called Polar Night, occurs during the winter period in areas above the Arctic Circle and below the Antarctic Circle: due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the Sun remains below the horizon for several days, with the duration varying depending on the latitude. The further north you go, the earlier the polar night begins and the later it ends.

It goes without saying, looking at the map, that areas near the Poles and some regions north of the continents are accustomed to living with these phenomena, which, in many cases, are the most characteristic aspects of places where you can also enjoy the Northern Lights.

But what happens when the Sun doesn’t reach you because you’re in a particular mountainous area? This is the case of Viganella, a town in the Antrona Valley, a Piedmontese valley bordering Switzerland, which owes its name to its majestic yet gloomy appearance: the surrounding mountains prevent direct sunlight in the area throughout the winter period, from early November to early February.

This was the norm for the town until December 17, 2006, when Viganella decided to defy the dictates of its surrounding nature: it stole the Sun.

It all began in 1999, during the redevelopment of the main square. The mayor at the time, Franco Midali, turned to the gnomonics expert architect, Giacomo Bonzani, with an unusual question: “How can we have the sun on our square even on dark winter days?”

The pioneering idea that emerged from that conversation turned into an incredible project. Seven years of hard work and an investment of around 100,000 euros led to the creation of a gigantic mirror, 40 square meters in size, placed upstream of the town at an altitude of 1050 meters. This mirror moves automatically, following the Earth’s movement, and reflects the sunlight directly onto the town square for at least 6 hours a day. It’s as if Viganella had stolen a piece of the sky and channeled it directly onto its square.

This magical mirror, however, is not the result of spells but of the vision and determination of a mayor and an architect. Its construction was a triumph of engineering and creativity, a tribute to the sunlight that has illuminated the lives of Viganella’s inhabitants for centuries. The mechanism is not without its challenges, requiring constant maintenance, but its international fame is a testament to its quality and the ingenuity behind its creation. It can even position itself vertically during the night to prevent snow and dust buildup, while during the summer, it blends in with the surrounding nature.

This extraordinary achievement takes on an even deeper meaning when you consider the centuries during which the Viganella community lived in darkness, primarily composed of miners, charcoal burners, and foundry workers. Sunlight, in addition to providing warmth, brings with it the joy of living and the desire to socialize, celebrated on the last dark day in town, the Feast of Candlemas.

Viganella, now part of the municipality of Borgomezzavalle after a merger with Seppiana in 2016, is a hidden gem among the mountains of Piedmont. Less than a two-hour drive from bustling Milan, this quiet little village represents an extraordinary human achievement that stole the sun to bring it where it is needed most.

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