From September to March, the 3,400 inhabitants of Rjukan, in the county of Telemark, are plunged into perpetual shade. The town is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, including the 1,880-meter high Gaustatoppen peak. To bring a little light into their lives, the city council decided to install three 17-square-meter mirrors in 2013.
Rjukan was founded by the noted engineer and industrialist Sam Eyde. In 1905, he set up his company, Norsk Hydro, in the region, to tap into the potential of the Rjukanfossen, a 10-meter high “smoking waterfall”, to generate hydroelectricity and make use of a new technology
. In 1913, one of his employees came up with the idea of building giant reflectors to allow factory workers to benefit from the sun’s rays during winter. Unfortunately, at the time, the technology wasn’t advanced enough and Sam Eyde built an aerial tramway instead.
In the early 2000s, Martin Andersen, a local globe-trotting artist, unearthed Eyde’s original plans. He did some research and found that heliostats
– devices that turn to keep reflecting sunlight toward a predetermined target – are used across the world. Andersen even visited a village called Viganella, in Italy, that’s equipped with a mirror that reflects light onto its central piazza. The city council, which hopes to make Rjukan more appealing to tourists, backed Andersen’s plans and, with the help of sponsors, raised the five million krone (around 600,000 euros) needed to set up the mirrors.
That’s how last summer, on a small mountain among the pines, Rjukan finally got its giant mirrors. This year, for the first time, the town’s inhabitants won’t need to use Sam Eyde’s tram to get their dose of vitamin D.
Find out more:
Meet the people of Rjukan
Main picture: The Rjukan’s giant mirrors - Crédits : ©meek,tore/ntb scanpix/afp