|Take a Subterranean Journey to the Mediterranean--
in the Middle of California!
|Forestiere Underground Gardens
Architect and Engineer
Although Forestiere patterned his work after the ancient catacombs, the
Underground Gardens are full of light, with very few dark areas, even at
the lowest level. He accomplished this by carving out skylights
throughout his underground domain.
Throughout his labyrinth Forestiere managed to connect rooms and
courtyards with passageways that eerily connect in ways where the eye
can see long distances, from one area to the next, creating vistas.
No plans were put on paper; all of Forestiere’s work originated in his
mind as he worked.
The “dirt” Forestiere excavated was used for stonework or mixed with
other soil conditioners and natural fertilizers for his underground
planters and ground-level mini-orchards. Also, the hand-formed
hardpan chunks he dug out were stacked on the ground to fill in the
undulations of his land to level it.
Forestiere built three underground levels; the first level is about 10 feet
deep, the second is about 22 feet deep, and the third is around 23 feet
deep. The lower levels also act as the main drainage point for most of
the underground rooms and passageways.
The Underground Gardens are a physical laboratory of air currents.
Some of Forestiere’s passageways are narrow to help accelerate the
air through them to create drafts; others were built wider to slow air
down. Some passageways are slanted and curved so that cool air
flows and bounces off the walls, sending it in various directions.
The conic shape of skylights found in his living quarters aided the air
flow by allowing warmer underground air to accelerate and be pushed
up and out the opening quickly (venturi concept) with the cooler air
remaining below ground.
The walls of the underground rooms are curved like an upside-down
teacup for extra support.
By 1923 (at age 44) Forestiere had carved 10 acres underground. He didn't die until 1946, and
it is unknown how many more acres had been carved in those last 23 years.
Because he had no formal education in architecture or engineering, Forestiere recalled his
personal observations of the ancient Roman architecture of his native country, and his
experiences as a subway digger in Boston and New York to guide him.
To build his creation Forestiere used farming tools—picks and shovels, wheelbarrows, and a
Fresno scraper pulled by two mules. No dynamite or motorized mechanical methods were
Forestiere’s Underground Gardens were built in his spare time. Eventually, he abandoned
farming to pursue his passion for building and expanding his underground dream world.
Fruit trees planted at different levels blossom at
different times, usually within two weeks of each
other, thereby lengthening the growing season.
Underground trees are also protected from the frost.
Forestiere planted numerous varieties of fruit-bearing
trees and grapevines underground including:
orange, lemon, grapefruit, sour orange, sweet lemon,
loquat, kumquat, quince, date, mulberry, carob,
pomegranate, strawberry, jujube, almond, and fig.
Grape varieties included Alicante, Thompson,
Muscat, Grenache, Black Morocco, and Zinfandel.
Most of the citrus trees he grafted bear three or more
varieties of citrus fruit. One tree was grafted to bear
seven varieties: valencia, navel, and bittersweet
oranges, ponderosa and sweet lemons, grapefruit,
and an Italian citron called cedro (pronounced
Many trees and vines are close to 100 years-old and
still produce fruit!
Forestiere planted trees and vines above and below
his maze of rooms not only to produce food, but to act
as insulators against the harsh summer and winter
elements. Branches and vines grew into canopies
that protected wide open underground spaces from
too much sun, wind, or rain.
The earth acts as a natural insulator from the weather
making the gardens cooler in the summer and
warmer in the winter than at ground level.
By residing in an underground dwelling, Forestiere
had no need to buy, furnish, and embellish a wooden
home, thereby saving his money for more important
things—like the purchase of more land, the symbol of
wealth and status in many societies.
In an interview with a Fresno Bee reporter in 1923,
Forestiere remarked that the visions of his mind
A Roman Catholic, Forestiere incorporated the
biblical numbers symbolic of the Divine Creator
throughout his diggings and plantings. The numbers
three and seven are amazingly evident in many
rooms, tree grafts and planter shapes, grapevine
branches, among others.
A chapel with an adjoining garden has seven
entrances to it and a grapevine planted underground
whose trunk penetrates the stonework wall also has
three branches protruding from that wall.
Trinity Courtyard (aka Central Patio) was built in a
triangle with three planter wings containing three fruit
trees, and three benches. The center holds a very-old
grapevine trained to have three main branches (photo
at left). This nearly 100 year-old vine is still bearing
sweet purple grapes (photo above).
This never-before photographed
planter is a miniature replica of
the larger Trinity planter found in
the main patio on the regular tour
route (lower photo). Its small
size seems to indicate the
builder may have constructed it
for the enjoyment of children at