Let There Be Light

In 1995, Who Shot Mr. Burns?, a two-part episode of The Simpsons — and, for that matter, the only two-part Simpsons episode to date — made its television debut. The plot line: C. Montgomery Burns, the owner of the town power plant, builds an enormous disc to block out his only energy-providing competitor, the Sun. The townspeople get angry and, as the first episode comes to a close, someone shoots Burns.

Fast-forward to 2006. The Simpsons is still on the air, Burns has survived, in and real life, the small Alpine town of Viganella, Italy took a play out of the Burns playbook and run it for a reverse. No, not the shooting — the disc. Or in Viganella’s case, a giant mirror.

Viganella, pictured above, has a population of fewer than 200 people and is over 3,000 feet above sea level. It is a small mountain commune which, but for one oddity, would rarely be mentioned. That oddity: each winter, for about 12 weeks a year, Viganella — due to the mountains — receives no direct sunlight.

To remedy this (at the cost of 100,000 Euro), the town commissioned the construction of a 400 square foot mirror. The mirror, made of steel and weighing over a ton, was flown by helicopter to the proper place on the mountainside, is controlled remotely by computer (pictured here) and now redirects light back into the town square. Now, for at least six hours every winter day, 300 square meters of Viganella’s town center has light, when it would otherwise be drowned out in shadow.

Bonus fact: Ever wanted to make flowers glow in the dark? Here’s how.

From the Archives: Star Fortress: Another interesting Italian municipality.

Related: “The World According to the Simpsons” by Steven Keslowitz. Four stars.

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