STAVANGER, Norway — Residents of the small Norwegian town of Rjukan have finally seen the light.
Tucked in between steep mountains, the town is normally shrouded in shadow for almost six months a year, with residents having to catch a cable car to the top of a nearby precipice to get a fix of midday vitamin D.
But on Wednesday faint rays from the winter sun for the first time reached the town’s market square, thanks to three 17-square-meter mirrors placed on a mountain.
Cheering families, some on sun loungers, drinking cocktails and waving Norwegian flags, donned shades as the sun crept from behind a cloud to hit the mirrors and reflect down onto the faces of delighted children below.
TV footage of the event showed the center of the crowded square light up a touch, but not as if hit by direct sunlight. Still, residents said the effect was noticeable.
“Before when it was a fine day, you would see that the sky was blue and you knew that the sun was shining. But you couldn’t quite see it. It was very frustrating,” said Karin Roe, from the local tourist office. “This feels warm. When there is no time to get to the top of the mountains on weekdays, it will be lovely to come out for an hour and feel this warmth on my face.”
Like much of Scandinavia, the town of Rjukan often is freezing throughout the winter, but on Wednesday it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit there.
The Italian town of Viganella has a similar, but smaller, sun mirror.
The plan to illuminate Rjukan was cooked up 100 years ago by the Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, who built the town to provide workers for a hydroelectric plant he located at the foot of a nearby waterfall.
The renowned engineer never saw his plan become reality, but his plant and the Telemark town he founded developed a special affection in the Norwegian imagination as the site of the country’s most famous wartime escapade.
Occupied by the Germans during World War II, the factory was a staging post in Hitler’s quest for the atomic bomb. The story of how 12 Norwegian saboteurs parachuted into the nearby tundra and survived freezing temperatures to destroy the factory’s “heavy water” plant inspired a 1965 Hollywood film, “The Heroes of Telemark,” and is being turned into a 10-part TV series by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.
In contrast to the shadow cast over Europe by Hitler’s plan for an atomic weapon, the three mirrors — ironically being remotely controlled from Germany — captured the sunlight and sent it in an ellipse that illuminated about one-third of the square below.
A band encouraged a cloud that weakened the effect to move away with the song, “Let The Sunshine In.”