THE LIFELONG DEVOTION AND HOBBY OF BALDASSARE FORESTIERE
Sometimes you have to go beneath the surface to find what you’re looking for. This was true for Baldassare Forestiere, and it will be for you, too, on one of our guided tours! All tours are by reservation to ensure the safety of our team, our guests, and our site.
Baldassare Forestiere, a Sicilian immigrant, came to America in 1901 to pursue his dreams of becoming a citrus farmer. In Fresno, California, Forestiere crafted a subterranean complex of patios, grottoes, and garden courts, all featuring arches and stonework using the local hardpan sedimentary rock. He became a self-taught artist, and patterned his underground world after the ancient catacombs he admired as a boy, near his home town of Filari, Sicily. No plans were put on paper; each room and passageway was created in Forestiere’s mind as he worked. With simple farm tools (a pick, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow) the young immigrant dug, chipped, and carved the unforgiving hardpan for 40 years, all in his spare time! By the time he was 44 years old, he had excavated and planted over 10 acres.
In addition to his unique building methods, the humble immigrant was also able to plant multiple varieties of fruit-bearing trees and vines, up to 20 feet underground! Orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees were planted throughout his underground gardens — many varieties growing together on the same tree! Forestiere also grew more unusual varieties like kumquat, loquat, jujube, carob, quince, and dates as well as wine and table grapes. Fruit could easily be plucked from the surface of the gardens by simply bending down. He truly created an oasis in a modern-day desert of pavement!
The Forestiere Underground Gardens were designated a CALIFORNIA REGISTERED HISTORICAL LANDMARK NO. 916 in 1979. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
The site has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, AAA Via Magazine, Sunset Magazine, Enjoy Magazine and on television in HGTV’s Xtreme Gardens and Huell Howser’s California’s Gold (episode 509). Most recently, the Forestiere Underground Gardens was the subject of an episode of the show Strange Inheritance and part of a feature on National Public Radio. We have also recently been featured on Buzzfeed’s Worth It!, the podcast California Now: Road Trip, and Hidden Adventures. The open air museum was on CNN.com’s list of World’s Coolest Underground Attractions, and is in Life’s book Seeing is Believing.