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Fresno: Sicilian Catacombs

Forestierean·to·nym: [an-tuh-nim] –noun a word opposite in meaning to another. Fast  is an antonym of slow.

Here’s another example: Fresno / Tourism.

That said, one Saturday morning my friend Sydnee and I found ourselves hurtling south to spend the day touring Fresno.  The plan was to see the Forestiere Underground Gardens and then continue on to Woodward Park and the Shinzen Friendship Garden.  Being that Fresno is a good 3-4 hours away from our respective homes in Sonoma County, we decided to make a weekend of it and spend the night in San Jose for a Sunday visit at the Rosicrucian Museum.

Forestiere EntranceForestriere was our first stop.  It comes up by surprise on busy, urban Shaw Street, which is lined with car repair shops, fast food restaurants and small strip malls.

A dated and peeling sign, ugly cyclone fencing and unfriendly barbed wire characterize the first impression of Forestiere.  It seems an odd way to present a state and nationally registered historical landmark, but fortunately, the atmosphere changes once past the gates.

Forestiere tunnels

Forestiere tunnels

Baldassari Forestiere (1879-1946), originally from Sicily, spent 40 years creating a ten acre underground catacomb with tunnels, archways, rooms and skylights punched out of the hard pan soil.  Originally planning to plant an orchard, young Baldassari soon found that the soil and the climate was too unforgiving for cultivation.  The story goes that he started digging underground to beat the heat. His instincts were right and indeed we noticed a pleasant drop in temperature in the catacombs.

Baldasare's Living QuartersThe story evolves at this point, and it appears that Baldassare then decided that he was going to keep digging and create an underground resort complex. The two missing elements were a firm conclusion date and bathrooms.  According to our guide, the bathroom issue is the number one question that comes up with visitors.  Answer: he used to go above ground during the day and had a “honey pot” under his bed at night.

The Ballroom

The Ballroom

Undeterred, in preparation for this underground resort, Baldasare built a large ballroom.  He also built an 800 foot auto tunnel with a pedestrian walkway, which would accommodate cars dropping passengers off underground.

Underground OrchardBaldasare was an accomplished horticulturist, and although he couldn’t plant his orchard above ground, he was able to create a his orchard below ground.  Latticed skylights bring diffused light to the many 90+ year old trees which still grow and thrive.

Above ground, a small well tended garden survives with a variety of fruit trees and roses.  One of the most prevalent and striking of those being the pomegranates. The fruit was almost fully ripe and our tour guide told us that in a few more weeks the pomegranate would go on sale for $1 each.  BTW, in modern day Israeli Hebrew “rimon” means both pomegranate and hand grenade, depending of course, on context.

PomegranateOur tour guide was named Lakteisha and her humorous, articulate and informative delivery has put her firmly in my personal tour guide hall of fame. Admission fee is $12, the tour lasts about 45 minutes.  Forestiere has a very limited and limiting photography policy.  No videos are allowed and dissemination of photos is allowed only for non commercial, personal use.

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3 Responses to “Fresno: Sicilian Catacombs”

  1. badmash says:

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

  2. mackdaniel says:

    this was a really nice post, thanks

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