People gather for the official opening of the giant sun mirrors erected on the mountainside above Rjukan

Mirror system lights up dark Norwegian mountain town

Sunshine lit up a Norwegian town nestled in a dark valley for the first time in winter today, thanks to a system of sun-tracking mirrors.

About 1,000 people, including children wearing sunglasses and with yellow suns painted on their faces, cheered when the sun broke through clouds to illuminate the main square in Rjukan, until now in shadow from early October to mid-March.

A 5m crown (£530,000) project has paid for three mirrors that will track the sun by computer, with a combined surface area of 51 square metres, to be set up on a ridge 450 metres above the centre of the industrial town of 3,500 people about 110 miles west of Oslo.

The reflected sunlight, covering 600 square metres, is meant to create a meeting place for sun-starved locals and a draw for tourists. Organisers believe the reflected light will be about 80 per cent as bright as the real sun.

"It's a crazy idea; but a bit of madness is fun," said Oystein Haugan, who led the project. "We hope this will bring joy to people here."

A band played the 1960s hit "Let the Sunshine In", several women lounged on sunbeds drinking cocktails – fully dressed against temperatures of 7°C – and a volleyball court was set up on a pile of sand.

Rjukan nestles in a deep valley in the shadow of Gaustatoppen, a 1,883-metre high mountain that hosts a ski resort. The sun shines in the town during the summer, when it's higher in the sky, but sets on October 4 behind the mountain and does not return until March 12.

An aerial view Rjukan's main square Steinar Bergsland, mayor of the area including Rjukan, said he hoped the mirrors would attract visitors. "And people get happy from seeing the sun," he said.

The idea was first proposed in a letter to a local newspaper by a bookkeeper, Oscar Kittilsen, on October 31, 1913. Organisers brought forward the planned unveiling of the mirrors from the anniversary on Thursday because rain is forecast.

A few people in Rjukan are against the mirrors, believing they are an expensive gimmick.

"I am resigned to them now," said Jan Hagalia, 63, a carpenter who was among the most vocal opponents. "It costs a lot. And the mirrors will have to be maintained, cleaned. That will mean a lot of expensive helicopter trips."

But almost all the locals are in favour.

"It's a fun stunt," said Maryan Listaul, 43, who runs a local flower shop with a sign outside saying "Hooray for the sun mirror". She added: "I don't think it will be any warmer."

Similar mirrors were first set up in 2006 in the Italian village of Viganella in the Alps, which is also hemmed in by a dark valley.

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