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Forestiere Underground Gardens

This amazing example of human ingenuity, located less than 10 miles northwest of downtown, provides a cool activity in the heat. The Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, California, are a series of subterranean structures constructed by Baldassare Forestiere, a Sicilian immigrant, over 40 years from 1906 to 1946. The gardens, which are administered by members of the Forestiere family through the Forestiere Historical Center, are a stunning and unusual example of vernacular architecture. Baldassare Forestiere was born in the hamlet of Filari, near Rometta on Sicily’s northeastern tip, on July 8, 1879, and died on November 10, 1946. After a feud with his father, he immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s and bought land in Fresno. He quickly discovered that the hardpan soil was unsuited for citrus plants and that the summers were excruciatingly hot. To avoid the summer heat, Baldassare constructed a tiny basement. He was most likely motivated by his visits to Roman tombs and wine cellars in Italy. He created a series of linked chambers and moved in, finding it functional and pleasant. Baldassare was motivated to excavate for forty years, descending as deep as 25 feet underground and stretching over ten acres, using only shovels, picks, and other hand equipment. He planted subterranean fruit trees and grapevines, many of which are still alive and well now! The Forestiere Underground Gardens include 65 chambers. There is a summer bedroom, a winter bedroom, a bath, a practical kitchen, a fish pond, and a parlor with a fireplace. Grottoes and courtyards are interspersed throughout the gorgeous stone walls and archways, allowing for pockets of light. Without the use of plans, the complex walkways were built bit by section across a 10-acre area. The underground structure has three levels: one that is 10 feet deep, one that is 20 feet deep, and one that is 23 feet deep. Skylights and water catch basins can be seen in the gardens. The soil that was hauled to build the massive structure was used to fill planters, manufacture stones for the catacombs, and level other areas of the property. The paths and chambers were built with varying widths to assist guide airflow by producing pressure as it passed through smaller sections and maintaining movement as it bounced off the vast walls’ slants and curves. Hot air is forced out more quickly via the conical skylights, while cool air remains below. Because of the building, the plants and trees, some of which are over 100 years old, are protected from frost throughout the winter months. To extend the growth season, each level was planted at separate dates so that they bloomed in succession. It contains a wide range of fruit, including citrus and berries as well as exotic fruits like kumquat, loquat, and jujube. The trees have been grafted to yield many types of fruit, allowing for a greater diversity of fruits to be cultivated across the space. Above the home, trees and vines were grown as insulation and to construct canopies that give shelter from the weather. In 1977, the gardens were added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1978, they were designated as California Historical Landmark No. 916.

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