Restoring Sunlight in a Hidden Norwegian Town

In his work The Sun Mirror Village, Italian photographer Federico Borella examines how a small Norwegian community situated in a narrow valley has solved the problem of a lack of natural light.


Located in a narrow valley three hours north-west from Oslo, Rjukan counts 3,400 inhabitants, who during the cold winter months from September to March, live completely in the shade, as the sun, covered by a 1,800-metre high peak, called Gaustatoppen, can’t illuminate the village. For this reason Martin Andersen, a 40 year old artist, brushing up on an idea of the founder Sam Eyde, considered unworkable at the time due to a lack of technology, submits to the community the intention to put on the top of the mountain three huge solar- powered mirrors, able to reflect the sun light on the town square. The project, called SOLISPEIL, became true in 2013, for the price of 5 millions Crowns.

The town of Rjukan was founded by Sam Eyde between 1905 and 1916, when the company Norsk Hydro decided to start the production of Saltpetre. The mirrors are located 450 meters above the town, and they reflect a 2000 square-feet circle of light. A solar-powered engine installed behind each mirror follows the sun movements during the day to maximise the effect. Sam Eyde, during the first decade of the last Century, unable to realise something similar, decided to bypass the problem of direct sunlight absence, which also caused depressive disorders and vitamin D deficiency, building a cable car that carried workers and miners on the top of the mountain, so that they could receive the winter sunlight. Some inhabitants decided to mark on a small notebook the days in which sun reaches the village during winter.

In April, Rjukan celebrate the SOLFEST, the return of sun from behind the mountain, with a costume parade. Often, these dresses are related to the sun or to its absence. During the parade, the Lord of Sun is elected by the community, he remains in office for one year and keeps the title for life. The Sunborn Child is also elected, a child born near the day in which sun crosses for the first time the mountain edge and shines again on the town.

Words and Pictures by Federico Borella.







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Federico Borella is an Italian freelance photojournalist. Internationally published, he has more than 10 years of experience as a news photographer and reporter working for both national and foreign magazines, agencies and publications. Follow Federico on PHmuseum and Instagram.

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This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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