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Travertine

Origins of Travertine in Rome

The word ‘travertine’ derives from the Italian word travertino, a derivation of the Latin tiburtinus ‘of Tibur’, the river next to the city of Tivoli, where this natural stone is extracted. In fact, the oldest and most famous Travertine is extracted in Tivoli and the word travertine (Travertino) originates from Tivoli, Rome, Italy.

The use of this natural stone has been preserved over centuries in large quarry deposits. The Romans would call this sedimentary limestone lapis Tiburtinus which translates into “Tibur stone”. Today, travertine coming from Tivoli is known worldwide as Roman Travertine (Travertino Romano), to differentiate it from other similar conformation materials found in different parts of the world (such as Turkey or Iran) and which have coined its name.

Roman travertine is a defining characteristic of Roman architecture since the Roman Empire. The local stone has been used as a construction material for buildings and monuments. This natural stone was in high demand because of how close the travertine quarries were to the city, allowing easy access and supply of this primary construction resource.

For example, the Colosseum in Rome is the biggest travertine construction ever built (constructed between 70-72 A.D.) and was erected almost entirely out of travertine stone due to the close proximity of the construction site to the quarries. This highly durable stone can be also seen while roaming through the streets of Rome and in most major surviving monuments including the Theatre of Marcellus and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Formation and Deposition of Travertine in Tivoli

The formation process of roman travertine from Tivoli required between 115 and 30 thousand years. Geologists classify Travertine as a terrestrial sedimentary rock mainly consisting of calcium carbonate minerals (95%) formed near springs and lake basins.

The two main characteristics of the Roman travertine are: compactness and color. The first is due both to the pressure of the quarry benches above the ones below, and to a reprecipitation of calcium carbonate giving rise to newly formed travertines. Since travertine is a permeable rock, it must be borne in mind that a large amount of water filters down to the base of the layer delimited by the clayey level and deposits more calcium carbonate, thus further occluding the pre-existing holes and giving rise to that area of the layer, to a very compact and tenacious travertine (recrystallization process).

As far as the color is concerned, we must say that, if a calcium carbonate were able to settle without being disturbed by external agents, it would take on a very white color, but this particular condition rarely occurs; very often the sedimentation process is disturbed by external agents, which alter its characteristics causing color variations in the travertine which vary from beige to hazelnut to dark brown. The darker travertines have superior technical characteristics to those of the lighter travertines.

The porous aspect of travertine is due in large part to the sulphureous gases that rose to the surface in the form of (boiling) bubbles when they passed the layer of calcareous mud.

In a travertine, cut parallel to the sedimentation direction, the circular bubble structure is clearly evident, confirming the ancient gas leak. If, on the other hand, the cut occurs orthogonally to the sedimentation direction, the shape of the holes is somewhat elongated in the direction of the stratification.

Characteristics of Roman Travertine: cross cut and vein cut

When speaking of travertine, we often hear about “cross cut” and “vein cut” processing. These are two ways used to cut the same product from which two completely different types of materials can be produced, even if they come from the same block.

Immediately one notices the stratifications: the travertine is formed by calcareous deposits that spread one over the other during the succession of geological eras. These stratifications give a direction to the travertine.

Historically, travertine has always been processed in cross cut (see the Colosseum built in 70 A.D.) With this cut, slabs (or tiles) are obtained with a uniform look.

Contrarily, the vein cut processing is a relatively modern processing, where the streaks form lines, even clear ones. The veins are very evident.

The final effect is very different between cross cut and vein cut, so that one thinks of a different material, but instead it is the processing that changes the material look.

Differences between Travertine, Marble and Granite

Travertine, marble and granite are all natural stones. Travertine is often thought of as a type marble but this is not the case, the two are very different stones created in a unique environment giving them their own specific look and feel. One reason these two stones might be lumped together is because they are in the limestone family and both created from sedimentary material, but these two stones are very different in appearance and formation.

The key difference between the two stones is how they are formed. Marble is formed when limestone comes under high pressures and temperatures. Travertine, on the other hand, is formed under additional high pressures and temperatures too, however travertine is formed in hot springs and limestone caves. Travertine has many distinctive, tiny holes and channels, giving it its telltale characteristics. These are created by the expulsion of hot water and gases during formation.

Travertine and marble are very hard stones and can withstand normal, everyday use. Being two of the softer natural stones, especially in comparison to granite and quartz, these two types can be cut in a variety of styles and shapes. Travertine and marble can be honed and polished into a beautiful shine. When homeowners hear the word “soft stone,” some are scared off from these two choices but keep in mind, travertine and marble countertops still incredibly durable and harder than most non-stone countertop surfaces.

They were created with heat and pressure during formation, so they are easily able to withstand heat and everyday wear and tear in your kitchen and bathroom. Travertine countertops are slightly harder than marble countertops as travertine is between a 4 and 5 on the mohs scale while marble is between a 3 and 4.

Granite, on the other hand is a natural igneous rock. It takes hundreds even thousands of years for granite to form in underground volcano chambers. It forms slowly during a crystallization process of magma. Granite is made of mostly quartz and feldspar but also includes small amounts of other minerals. Granite is one of the most durable natural construction materials and scores from 6 to 7 on the mohs scale.

Ancient Monuments and historical Roman Travertine references

Roman Travertine was used since the times of the Roman Empire (from 753 BC and lasted for well over 1000 years). The use of this construction material is still visible today through the most important monuments in Rome, still standing today.

The revival of travertine was brought to the Renaissance era – a period in which artists and architects reminisced the Classical era of Ancient Rome, emulating all things Greco-Roman. For example, the stone by artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, used Italian travertine to build the circular Colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. Many of these famous monuments have been preserved and restored to this day.

The use of travertine has evolved in the building scene since the Classical era. Today, travertine is one of the most frequently used stones in modern architecture for interior and exterios design because of their latest techniques to produce thin slabs for facades, wall cladding, and flooring.

Below, examples of historical ancient monuments built using roman travertine.

The Colosseum

As the largest Flavian amphitheater in Rome, the travertine used to build the Colosseum was quarried from Tivoli and transported to the Italian’s capital city center through the Aniene and Tiber rivers. Travertine was used on the main pillars, the ground floor, and the external walls nearly rising 50 meters high. Slabs of travertine were paved surrounding the Colosseum to support the outer realm of the building. The main part of the structure is constituted by three ring walls with columns made of travertine blocks without mortar and connected by means of arches and architrave at various levels which support the ambulatory vaults. The structure was completed in 80 A.D. by Emperor Vespasian to honor the grandiosity of the Roman Empire. This amphitheater is entirely made of travertine.

Trevi Fountain

The largest fountain in the Eternal City and, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in the world. The façade and reef of the fountain were constructed using travertine while the statues are made of carrara marble. Pope Clemens XII held a competition to construct a new fountain, designed by architect Nicola Salvi, it was inaugurated in 1762. In 2015, Italian fashion house, Fendi, sponsored a complete restoration of the fountain including the installation of over 100 LED lights to illuminate it at night. Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain is a ritual performed by almost every visitor. The original legend goes back as far as Ancient Rome. It was claimed that tossing a coin, then drinking a cup of water from the fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City.

Museum of the Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis (Latin, “Altar of Peace”) is an altar in Rome dedicated to peace. It was inaugurated in 9 B.C. This ancient monument in Rome houses the altar of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. The new museum complex complete in 2006 was designed by architect Richard Meier. The choice of materials was evaluated as an integration of the architectural work of the adjacent Piazza Augusto Imperatore (also made out of travertine).

Parco della Musica

The auditorium merges both modern and traditional materials dedicated to music, designed by world famous architect, Renzo Piano. He decided to use travertine marble for the flooring and Roman brickwork on the outside while the interior consists of a more modern look using dark wood.

In general, Roman travertine has proved to be a versatile natural stone used all throughout Rome. Its varying appearance and high qualities can be seen in many ancient structures today. Each era, when travertine gets re-introduced to the building scene, Romans utilized the material in different ways, based on the time period. For example, many facades on Roman structures were inspired by stories of Roman gods like the Trevi Fountain. Today, as quarries continue to produce the stone, people have repurposed it through modern technology and style, blending both traditional and modern elements in structures.

Differences between Roman Travertine and Travertines coming from different countries

Travertine quarries can be found in different parts of our planet. However, only Roman Travertine can rely on specific technical properties, which make it one of the most resistant materials of mother nature. In fact, due to its compactness it is easy to work among all other kinds of travertine. The reason lies on the quarry basin depth, which has a great influence over the toughness and weight of this natural stone. The extraction of Roman Travertine in the Tivoli area is undertaken at a depth of tens of meters ensuring a thick texture and material compactness. This, in turn, allows Roman Travertine to be processed in both vein cut and cross cut and be resistant over time. Not all travertines are suitable for both cross cut and vein cut processing. Travertines that originate from plane quarries are recommended to be processed only in cross cut. This is because they may lack the technical characteristics of resistance and durability in the long term.

Travertine Colors

One of Travertine’s distinctive features is indeed the wide range of color variations. According to the place (and depth) where blocks are extracted, the stone may be darker or lighter. For Roman Travertine, originating from Tivoli, Italy, the materials recall the classical colors of the earth. There are four main categories of Roman Travertine tonalities: silvers, darks, lights, and whites. In these main color categories, we will find different materials, which can be processed in either cross cut or vein cut.

A similar differentiation is applied to foreign travertines, which instead recall brighter and more vivid tones, which range from yellow to red, brown and black.

It is important to highlight that the cutting processing (vein cut or cross cut) highly influences the color texture of travertine slabs or tiles. On the one hand, the vein cut brings to light to all of the natural veins, generally treasured within the blocks. Those streaks stand out on light/dark backgrounds. On the other hand, the cross cut conceals the natural veining, resulting in a more balanced, velvety surface. Dainty traces of the natural veins are still visible in cloudy-like shapes.

Roman Travertine Silver tones

Roman Travertines belonging to this family are Travertines enriched by silvery, glowing shades. Such travertines are: Silver Platinum, Silver D, Silver Fumè and Silver L.

color palette for the silver italian travertine stones ranges from cream, to blue, grey, and brown tonalities. Minerals composing travertine ensure a wide range of grey tones, from the lightest to the most mesmerizing silvery ones. Generally, backgrounds display from beige to hazelnut tones.

Roman Travertine Dark tones

This group of Roman Travertine includes natural stones with dark tones and streaks of well-defined traits. Namely, Dark Roman Travertines are Storm, Ocean Blue, Noce D, Noce C, and Vesta.

These travertines are characterized by regular streaks of grey, and beige tones often enriched by amber, blue or green tones. The background runs the whole gamut of brown tonalities. In particular, Storm travertine shows beige and cream tones for the background and a mix of greys for the veining.

Roman Travertine Light tones

Corteccia, Classico C, Classico D, and Navona Silver are the four travertines grouped in the category of Light Roman Travertine. The light tonal hues play up the delicate traces of the veining.

These italian travertines show a light background, with a palette ranging from beige to hazelnut tones. The natural streaks enrich the surface with its brown shades, resembling onyx texture. In particular, Navona Silver is embroidered by veins of blue and green.

Roman Travertine White tones

This collection includes travertines of the lightest shades. Of course, Roman Travertine will always display holes and fine streaks, as they are a mark of its uniqueness and inimitability. Namely, these travertines are Alabastrino D, Alabastrino L, Bianco Michelangelo, Navona, and Osso.

These travertines are characterized by bright tones: the backdrop displays generally ivory to hazelnut tones. The veins add a touch of color with their shades of amber and cream. Among all white travertine, Osso posesses the lightest hues one can find in nature.

Foreign Travertine Red tones

Red Travertine is one of the foreign travertines extracted only from quarries located in Iran. The most renowned and appreciated variety is Soraya travertine. Its bright red tones express all the majesty of nature.

Soraya vein cut is characterized by a wide range of red tones paired with linear cream streaks of the veining, while Soraya cross cut shows cream, amber and grey elements on a red-coral background.

Foreign Travertine Brown tones

Chocolate travertine is a foreign travertine quarried in Turkey. This travertine is appreciated for its smooth surface and solid colors.

The surface of Chocolate cross cut has a complex pattern made of speckles and elements in some of the richest shades ranging from cream to sand colors.

Due to the fact that Turkish travertine originates from plane quarries it is recommended that they are processed in cross cut and with a minimum thickness of 2cm for interiors and 4cm for exteriors.

Foreign Travertine Grey tones

Titanium Travertine is a special kind of travertine quarried in Iran. Its dark tones tending to black make of it a rare exclusive material.

Titanium vein cut offers a background of dark grey to black shadings, with fine, parallel cream streaks. Occasionally it displays also ochre elements. Titanium cross cut comprises black and grey elements with light grey and beige speckles. As a whole, they create a glamorous effect.

Foreign Travertine Yellow tones

Yellow travertine is an incredibly highly pigmented travertine. It is easy to recognize thanks to its mellow golden shadings. This foreign travertine is extracted in Iran.

Siena travertine vein cut has a bright yellow to golden backdrop with tone-on-tone veining next to beige elements. Siena cross cut displays a matte yellow to ochre background enriched by dainty grey and ivory speckles.

Travertine Products

After the excavation, Travertine can be sold in three different moments of the manufacturing process namely, in rough blocks, random size slabs, or cut to size.

Blocks

Travertine blocks are big sections of benches quarried from the sulphureous basin. Blocks are inspected, cleaned and squared, so that only the selected ones are put on sale. Each block shows unique color features. Quality and compactness are guaranteed.

Slabs

Travertine slabs are cut from blocks. Gangsaw blades saw the blocks at different levels of thickness ranging from 1.3 to 5 cm (standard thicknesses). The output will be standard thickness slabs. However, through CNC mono-blades also customized thicknesses can be produced.

Depending on the required kind of cut, either vein or cross cut processing can be applied. Blocks are inserted accordingly within the machinery: the vein cut is parallel to the horizontal streaks of the veining. Instead, the cross cut is achieved by cutting the blocks perpendicularly to the rock sedimentation.

Tiles and Pavers

Tiles and pavers are two of the possible cut-to-size options offered by roman travertine manufacturing. Tiles are well suited for cladding walls and floor and can be easily adapted to different design projects. Their lightness allows the creation of patterns and mosaics. Wall decorations are elegant solutions for refined interiors and exteriors.

Pavers are thicker than tiles and are perfect for carriageable spaces or floors with large passage of pedestrians. Exterior applications range from stepping stones in gardens to driveways and patios.

Travertine Processing

Travertine Finishes

Roman Travertine is a natural stone easy to shape and cut, and thanks to its versatility the most incredible finishes can be achieved. In general, finishes are a matter of personal taste and architect’s vision.

We are able to guarantee 20 different finishes. Among these the most famous and sought-after are: saw cut, brushed, bush hammered, polished, and honed

  • Saw cut finish is famous for preserving the stone natural look, with its rough and open-pore surface
  • Brushed finish ensures homogeneity and a silky look on the stone surface by gently piercing it. The final result is a stone with an ancient and refined appearance
  • Bush hammered finish is appreciated for donating homogeneity to the stone surface. With its slightly corrugated look, this finish calls to mind the saw cut one
  • Polished finish provides a glowing, mirror-like surface
  • Honed finish ensures a smooth, matte look to travertine tiles

Travertine Filling and Sealing

Finishes can be combined with filling techniques that give uniformity to the travertine’s natural surface.

Stone color cement filling is the most natural of all fillings as well as the most resistant. It is applicable for both interiors and exteriors.

Stone color epoxy mastic filling gives the best result in terms of aesthetics to the stone surface. However, it is recommended only for internal applications.

In addition, also transparent epoxy resin filling donates a smooth surface to the travertine but maintains its original porous look. Also recommended for interiors.

Travertine Architecture & Design

Roman travertine is historically renowned for its resistance and durability. Romans used travertine blocks to ensure solid foundations for their private and public buildings, but today we are able to take advantage of its versatility and develop the most creative architectural and design projects.

Interiors & Exteriors

Roman Travertine intrinsic properties make this stone perfect for internal and external uses. It is a natural stone that requires low maintenance, even if exposed to extreme weather conditions.

Travertine applications and inserts add a warm touch to the ambience. They also help to create an intimate atmosphere, in which to welcome visitors and guests.

Façades in Roman Travertine express sophistication and distinctiveness. Its brightness turns the building into a precious gem both in urban and natural landscapes.

Travertine Pavers & Tiles

Walls and floors should be considered as blank canvas that travertine tiles can liven up. In fact, with their natural shadings, veining, and speckles they can be combined in creative patterns. Smaller tiles are perfect for creating bespoke mosaics.

Travertine pavers give a lavish touch to garden pathways and swimming pool areas. Thanks to its non-slip feature, these pavers are ideal as stepping stones.

Modern Buildings and Monuments

Throughout history there are many stunning examples of Roman Travertine application to building and monuments. Among the most renowned ones there are Colosseum, Hadrian’s Villa, Saint Peter’s Basilica colonnade, and The Moor’s fountain in Navona square.

However, Roman Travertine is still in high demand, and we collaborate with many architects, supplying them with Travertine for their incredible modern projects. Two Union Square in Seattle, now hosting Apple’s Inc. offices, is an outstanding example. Here the great value of this natural stone is applied to refined and yet essential architecture.

Roman Travertine tiles that dress up the walls of Bank of China offices in Beijing is considered the turning point of the Chinese capital restyling.

Find out more about these and are many more projects in our dedicated section.

Object Design

Roman Travertine pastel colors are a statement of sheer elegance. Design objects made with this valuable natural stone are meant for sophisticated ambiences and to inspire a genuine connection with nature.

A classic example of design objects made of travertine are dining and coffee tables, consoles, kitchen and bathroom countertops, bathtubs, lamps, vases, fruit bowls, frames, fireplace mantels, staircases, balcony doors, and thresholds.

Actually, there’s no limits to human creativity and good taste: Roman Travertine versatility will support any design choice and purse of beauty.