Undergrounnd Living

Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere (1879-1946), a self-taught artist, architect, engineer, horticulturist, and builder, spent 40 years building his underground garden in Fresno. Patterned after the ancient catacombs, this underground oaasis features three levels and fruit-bearing trees and grapes growing beneath the surface.

Situated in a barren Australian desert, the old mining town of Coober Pedy doesn't look like much at first. That's because more than half the town -- incliding churches, restaurants, bars, museums, hotels, and even art galleries -- is underground.

Coober Pedy got its start when opals were discovered in the area in 1915. After Australia's transcontinental railroad was finished in 1917, many construction workers and soldiers returning from World War I moved to Coober Pedy in search of riches. Desert weather made for harsh living conditions, so the soldiers, accustomed to living in trenches during the war, took up residence in underground dwellings to escape the heat. When summer temperatures soared into the triple digits, the earth's temperature kept the underground homes consistently cool. Originally known as the Stuart Range Opal Field, the town changed its name in 1920 to Coober Pedy, from the Aboriginal words kupa piti, meaning "white man in a hole."

Today more than half of Coober Pedy's residents live comfortably underground, some in former mines. Because the original holes were dug by hand, these homes tend to be small. As tunneling machines have taken the back-breaking labor out of building, newer homes are more spacious. Many of the homes are built into Coober Pedy's hillsides, with street-level doors and windows that let in light. The sandstone from which the homes are hewn provides the light, rose-colored walls.

Visiting Coober Pedy? Try one of the town's underground hotels such as the Desert Cave Hotel, with 19 underground suites, or the Underground Bed and Breakfast, a three-bedroom underground home.

--Susan Melgren


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