What is Travertine: Types and Colors


What is travertine? Travertine is an incredibly resistant and compact natural stone, widely used in construction. In particular, travertine is a chemical sedimentary rock consisting mainly of calcium carbonate minerals.
The term travertine derives from “tiburtinus” since it largely comes from an area below Tivoli. Travertine, in fact, was one of the most used materials by the Romans for the construction of buildings and public works, so much so that it later became famous under the name of Roman travertine. Among the most famous monuments in the world made with travertine rock it is impossible not to mention the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica or the Trevi Fountain.
Travertine is considered an extremely versatile rock also due to the variety of colors in which it is available. The stone age and the incorporation of oxides and other impurities (normal phenomenon given the porosity of this rock) gives life to a series of different travertines in addition to classic travertino with many shades starting from milky white up to walnut, as well as from pink to scarlet red.

Is travertine Stone a marble? Travertine vs Marble

One of the first questions about travertine marble is the following: is travertine a type of marble or not? The answer is quite simple: no. However, it is appropriate to clarify why we often hear about travertine marble in a completely natural way even from experts in the stone field.
Technically, according to the geological classification of rocks, travertine vs marble are two different things: travertine is part of the sedimentary limestone rocks, while marble is a metamorphic rock. To simplify, a sedimentary rock originates from the deposition of sediments over time, while a metamorphic rock originates from a sedimentary rock that also undergoes significant changes in pressure and temperature, with times that can reach millions of years.
The classification into marble, granite, travertine and stone is a type of commercial classification, not a geological one: the Romans, for example, used the term “marmora” to generically define polishable stones. For this reason, it is not strange to hear “travertine marble” pronounced in the common language.
Is travertine marble or limestone? Travertine is very often sold as marble or limestone but in reality, travertine, from a technical point of view, represents neither of the two since travertine stone is characterized by a completely different geological formation process, which it can be found not only from a chemical and physical point of view, but also from a visual point of view.

is travertine marble

Travertine is what type of rock? Chemical and mineralogical composition as well as technical characteristics

If it is not a marble, travertine is what type of rock? Travertine is a sedimentary stone of chemical origin with a more or less evident stratification, concreted, structurally microcrystalline, which is formed when waters rich in bicarbonates release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and to photosynthetic plant organisms. This process also called “karst phenomenon” favors the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the form of encrustations:
Ca(HCO3)2 = CaCO3 + H20 + CO2
In the sedimentation process, in addition to calcium carbonate, other carbonates also precipitate, especially those of magnesium and manganese as well as iron hydroxides which significantly affect the appearance and especially the color of travertine. The morphology of the deposits and their extension depend on the type of structures that are encrusted, the rate of precipitation, the speed of water flow, how much the vegetation has contributed to the removal of CO2, which gives it a less dense structure than marble.
Generally, two main travertine rock type are identified: “thermal” travertines and travertines formed by water at room temperature. Thermal travertines are created following the precipitation of salts from hot mineralized waters. The cooling of these waters and the difference in pressure of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the thermal aquifer system give rise to intense precipitation phenomena near the springs, with the creation of very large and thick travertine plates. These travertines are often found in central Italy due to the widespread presence of thermal waters. The second type of travertine stone generally arises thanks to so-called “petrifying” springs which are characterized by a high saline content. In this case, when the groundwater exits into the atmosphere, there is a rebalancing between the dissolved carbon dioxide and that present in the atmosphere, which leads to the precipitation of calcium carbonate and the formation of calcite encrustations.
What type of rock is travertine from a mineralogical point of view? Travertine is almost entirely composed of calcium carbonate. Other elements present in travertine, albeit minimally, are quartz, clay minerals, manganese and iron hydroxides, gypsum, white mica, sulfur and chlorites. The presence of vegetables (such as leaves, algae, stems, etc.) is another characterizing factor from a morphogenetic point of view: travertine is in fact characterized by a vacuolar structure, where the voids (incisions or cavities up to a few centimeters) are generally due to the deterioration of these organic elements within the rock.
What kind of rock is travertine for what concerns physical-chemical and mechanical characteristics? Its specific weight is at most 2500 kg/mc while the resistance/compression can reach up to 1200 kg/cm2. These parameters undoubtedly depend on the voids in the rock: the higher the presence of voids, the lighter and more fragile the stone is. However, when the voids exceed 20-30% of the total volume, then we no longer speak of travertino but of “sponge stone”.
Another peculiarity of travertine is that it tends to harden and compact with the passage of time once exposed to air: this is because the transformation of calcium bicarbonate, as long as this element is present, never ceases.

The Travertine quarry: where is it extracted?

travertine grey sheet

The best travertines are extracted in the plain below Tivoli and in particular in the municipalities of Tivoli and Guidonia where about thirty travertine quarry sites are currently operating. Beyond the Lazio area, which obviously retains a certain primacy of tradition and quality in the processing of the product, the main national extraction basins are located in Abruzzo (in Ascoli Piceno, for example, churches, palaces and squares are entirely built in travertine), in Tuscany (especially in Rapolano Terme in the province of Siena), in Umbria and in the Marche.
Looking at the global travertine mining activity, there are other varieties of travertine (often mistaken for Roman travertine) extracted in other areas of the world. The areas outside Italy where the greatest number of travertine quarry yards are found are North Africa (in particular Tunisia and Egypt with yellow travertine), the Middle East (especially Iran and Turkey – in Turkish travertine quarries different varieties are extracted such as Turkish travertine, Iranian travertine, red travertine and titanium travertine) and South America (Chile).

Historical notes and uses of Travertine in architecture

trevi fountain travertine

Travertine was undoubtedly the most used stone by the Romans in the construction sector for the construction of buildings and architectural works due to its elastic qualities, good resistance to atmospheric agents and the ability to be smoothed and sculpted with ease.
The most famous monument made of travertine stone (used for the construction of the main pillars, floor and external facade) is undoubtedly the Colosseum which, in addition to being the undisputed symbol of the capital and UNESCO heritage, was included in 2007 among the new 7 wonders of the world. Just think that for the transport of the travertine blocks from the quarries of Tibur (today Bagni a Tivoli) to the capital a road was built on purpose.
In addition to the Colosseum, travertine also adorns the exterior of the Teatro Marcello, the frame of the Pantheon, the columns of St. Peter’s Basilica, the architectural structures of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. The combination of travertine and water is represented in all its splendor and spectacular Baroque fullness in the work of the Trevi Fountain, the largest fountain in Rome and another symbol of the Eternal City.
The arches of what remains of the aqueducts were also made of travertine rock. An arch of the Claudian aqueduct, built with travertine stone, gives the name to the area “Arco di Travertino“. The Claudian aqueduct is, among other things, characterized by a magnificent chiaroscuro effect mainly due to the use of travertine blocks alternating with unworked stone blocks such as peperino and red tuff.
In the rest of the world, it is impossible not to mention the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris made with the stone of Château-Landon, a variety of travertine resistant to frost and capable of becoming even whiter and shinier with age and in contact with rain. Or the Getty Center in Los Angeles whose architectural structure, built with over 100,000 square meters of travertine stone imported from Italy, completes the surrounding natural environment and pays homage to the concept of a historic building.

Colors and types of travertine

Based on the origin and the different colors available, it is possible to make a subdivision of different travertine colors, among the most present on the market.

Gray travertine

gray travertine

This shade is not among the most common but it is certainly one of the most elegant. It should be emphasized that this color is also widely used for imitation travertine or for slabs with a travertine effect, such as travertine porcelain stoneware for example. Below we list three types of grey travertine: Rapolano silver travertine, vesta travertine and titanium travertine.

Rapolano silver travertine

The silver travertine, as well as the zebra silver travertine, is one of the most valuable varieties of the Rapolano quarry in Tuscany. This variety of travertine is characterized by gray shades and particularly straight grains of gray, silver and beige. These chromatic characteristics make it a unique stone in the world, so much so that silver travertine is often chosen for prestigious projects at an international level.

Vesta travertine

Italian travertine stone with a very light gray or ecru background and crossed by contrasting veins of a lighter color such as white, silver or ivory. The veins of Vesta travertine are generally very marked, wavy and of different thickness and intensity.

Titanium travertine

Titanium travertine is a variety of travertine extracted essentially in Iran and Turkey. Titanium travertine has a surprising color ranging from dark gray (sometimes tending to brown) to light phrygian. Given its color and special characteristics that differentiate it from the more classic travertines, it is particularly suitable for spaces with a modern design and combined with typically industrial materials such as steel and concrete.

Yellow travertine

yellow travertine sheet

Yellow travertine comes mainly from the Middle East although we have also included a yellow travertine extracted in Italy, namely the Roman golden travertine. Yellow travertine usually has a cream-colored background with dark yellow streaks on which rare more delicate streaks stand out. Yellow travertine has been used both indoors and outdoors since ancient times and the types of yellow travertine that we have examined, in addition to the Roman golden travertine, are the Persian (or Turkish) yellow travertine and the Persian golden travertine.

Persian yellow travertine

yellow travertine texture

This travertine comes mostly from Iran but can also be found in Turkey. The Persian yellow travertine has an intense yellow color which is enhanced even better thanks to processes such as polishing, brushing or sandblasting. The texture of the Persian yellow travertine is compact and dense on which it is possible to identify thin brown or white veins. The use of Persian yellow travertine is suggested in contexts where there is water since the wet effect enhances the yellow color of this stone even more.

Roman golden travertine

This type of golden travertine is quarried in Italy and is characterized by a warm color that is between walnut and yellow. It is customary to combine this type of travertine with lighter-colored travertines such as beige.

Persian golden travertine

Even the golden travertine from the Middle East has very similar characteristics to that extracted in Italy: it is, in fact, a travertine with golden tones of yellow and beige with light brown streaks.

Pink travertine

With pink travertines we get closer to the typical colors of travertine. Pink travertine is a natural stone of Italian origin characterized by a rather uniform background of light pink color with more or less distinct shades and veins of more intense color. The types of pink travertine that we present below are Turkish pink travertine, Scabas travertine and Paglierino travertine.

Turkish pink travertine

Turkish pink travertine is a rather rare stone extracted only in a few Turkish travertine quarries. Being a very rare stone, it is mainly used for projects of great value or, due to its special pink color, for the creation of modern and luxury living spaces.

Scabas travertine

Scabas travertine is a travertine coming mainly from Spain but there are also some extraction basins in Italy in the province of Siena. Scabas travertine is a material with pink and beige tones with concentrations of minerals that give life to such veins as to make it a heterogeneous stone. Scabas travertine from the area of San Casciano dei Bagni in the province of Siena represents another of the Tuscan stone excellences: it is a porous travertine stone with small holes that generally tend to be covered with crystals. Scabas travertine is particularly suitable for indoor use.

Paglierino travertine

Paglierino travertine is a travertine with a natural consistency, with a very compact structure and without major pores or cavities. The predominant color of this stone is precisely straw-colored pink, with limited darker shades that highlight the delicate streaks.

Beige travertine

beige travertine texture

Beige is undoubtedly the typical shade of travertine and for which it is famous throughout the world. Among the best-known beige travertines, it is impossible not to mention the Alabastrino travertine, the classic Roman travertine and the Navona travertine.

Alabastrino travertine

Quarried in the Tivoli travertine quarry area, Alabastrino travertine is a generally pore-free stone with a uniform ivory yellow and light beige color with wavy veins ranging from yellow to havana. Alabastrino travertine, being anti-freeze and anti-slip, is often used in outdoor environments such as for the construction of outdoor floors, swimming pools and bathrooms.

Classic Roman travertine

classic roman travertine texture

Classic Roman travertine is undoubtedly the most famous variant of travertine in the world and can be found in all the most famous works of the capital. Classic Roman travertine is a material with a homogeneous light beige color with light streaks and characterized by a high porosity which successfully highlights the naturalness of this stone and recalls at a glance the classical and Baroque architecture of Rome.

Navona travertine

Navona travertine is a light cream-colored travertine rock with warm shades and ivory streaks. It is a homogeneous stone with no significant cavities widely used for the construction of interior floors and walls. Navona travertine is generally lighter than classic travertine and has a more intense brightness that allows the light to be reflected more on the rooms.

Walnut travertine

walnut travertine sheet for sale

The walnut travertine has a compact and homogeneous structure as well as a dark and warm beige background color stained by delicate cream-colored veins. It can be found mainly in two versions, a lighter one (light walnut travertine) and a darker one (dark walnut travertine).

Light walnut travertine

The light walnut travertine is an Italian travertine with a delicate and warm cream-colored background with beige veins.

Dark walnut travertine

gray travertine walnut

When it comes to walnut travertine, the dark version is undoubtedly the best known and most favorite. Among the many varieties of walnut travertine present in the world among the finest is undoubtedly the dark walnut travertine extracted in Tuscany in the Rapolano travertine quarry Italy. Dark walnut travertine is a brown stone, with shades oscillating between dark brown and hazelnut, with possible tone-on-tone veins and abundant vacuoles which make the material porous.

Red travertine

red travertine sheet

The red travertine is undoubtedly one of the most particular variants born in the lands of ancient Persia. The only variant that is included is the Persian red travertine (or soraya), a travertine stone with a lively red color, very often combined with yellowish shades and darker veins. Depending on the quarry of origin, the red travertine can also be presented in red and with lighter veins up to cream and milky white. Although the Persian red travertine is characterized by chromatic characteristics very far from the classic Roman travertine, the two materials have very similar technical characteristics.

red travertine texture

White travertine

White is also a color tone much appreciated by travertine lovers. The most common types of white travertine are extracted in the Rapolano area and have an ivory beige color with white spots and greyish veins. White travertine is used both as a construction material and as a decorative material as well as for the creation of sculptures. The types of white travertine that we examine are super white travertine, alabastrino light travertine and white Rapolano travertine.

Super white travertine

Super white travertine is an Iranian travertine with a pure white background. The veins of this stone are also white and thin and extend on a pure white background. This white travertine has subtle white veins that extend finely across its smooth surface.

Alabastrino light travertine

Ivory travertine with very light veins that fade into different shades of ivory and cream. The alabastrino light travertine has a compact and homogeneous structure in which there are no pores or important cavities.

White Rapolano travertine

Splendid travertine from the quarrying area of Rapolano Terme and known since the times of the Ancient Romans. In addition to building use, white Rapolano travertine is also used for decorative purposes, for example for the production of columns, capitals or inlay work. The color of this stone is a uniform ivory with more or less intense shades and local dark gray areas rarely tending to black.

Travertine design

travertine bathroom design

As we have seen in the previous paragraphs, travertine stone is a robust and versatile natural stone, also resistant to external agents, so much so that it can be used for indoor and outdoor solutions, in environments with high humidity such as bathrooms or kitchens, or in “extreme” environments in coating qualities such as for fireplaces or swimming pools.
Travertine is the undisputed symbol of timeless balanced luxury. Its use in architecture since ancient times makes it immediately associable with ideas of elegance, warmth and refinement. What is amazing, finally, of this stone is its versatility and therefore the ease of insertion inside any type of furniture and travertine design. Because of its strong and long historical value, in fact, one could think of travertine only as a stone suitable for houses with an ancient character, but this is not the case at all. Travertine stone is also suitable for spaces with a decidedly modern style and this is possible, in addition to its unique aesthetic characteristics, also thanks to the different shapes and sizes for which it is commercially available (from large travertine slab to mosaic tiles), or to the many colors and types of travertine, without forgetting the many finishes with which it can be enriched and embellished (which we will discuss in detail in the dedicated paragraph regarding the finishes of travertine).
A very popular solution is the travertine bathroom. There are many possible modern travertine bathroom designs but the most common application in this case is to use this stone for bathroom wall coverings using travertine floor tiles or why not a travertine tile bathroom mosaic. The bathroom elements built with this natural stone are also decidedly elegant, such as travertine sinks, a travertine shower tray or a travertine tile shower.
As for the main uses of travertine in furniture and travertine design ideas, the uses of travertino discussed above are summarized and other uses of this stone are listed with links to the topic-related article:

  • Travertine floors Travertine pool deck
  • Travertine coffee table
  • Travertine backsplash
  • Travertine countertops
  • Travertine patio
  • Travertine pool
  • Travertine table
  • Travertine stairs
  • Travertine cladding
  • Travertine kitchen top
  • Travertine floors

The typical use of this stone is first of all to create travertine floors. Thanks to the large travertine slab it is easily used for flooring and the final result is undoubtedly of great visual and aesthetic impact. Outdoor travertine floors can also be created given the resistance that this material possesses against external agents and thanks to its porosity which makes it naturally non-slip. For the same reasons a travertine kitchen floor is also a magnificent and practical solution.

modern stairs and steps in travertine

Travertine pavers

Travertine pavers are one of the favorite solutions for what concerns outdoor natural stones for architects, designers and home owners. Travertine pavers are able to enhance your outdoor areas such as patios, pool decks, front porches and garden driveways; among the most appreciated are silver travertine pavers. As you may have guessed, travertine pavers are mainly used for exterior applications: one of the main reasons is that outdoor travertine pavers offer an anti-slip grip which is even increased when the stone is wet. Finally, travertine pavers are more durable than tiles since they are thicker.

Travertine tile

What is travertine tile? A travertine tile is generally a small square or rectangular shaped piece of stone mainly used for flooring. A travertine tile can come in a range of different travertine colors, textures and finishes: this characteristic makes an indoor or outdoor travertine tile a technical solution able to fit in all environments and styles, as well as having an overall lower cost, hence excellent for low budget projects.

The finishes of travertine

The beauty of travertine is even more enhanced thanks to the numerous finishing methods whose aim is precisely that of enhancing the color and structure of this natural stone. The choice between the many finishes of travertine must be made on the basis of the effect to be obtained to the touch, to the sight and in relation to the furniture and mood of the space in which travertine is installed.
For example, with a brushed finish the travertine will be “softer”, through polishing the stone will have a more crystalline appearance while, through a shining process, travertine will undoubtedly be brighter. The possibilities are almost endless: antique travertine, bush-hammered travertine, mirror-polished travertine, soft polished travertine, sandblasted travertine, polished travertine, saw blade travertine (with a rough and irregular final effect), striped travertine and many others.
Based on the finish of travertine that has been chosen, it is also advisable to learn how to clean travertine tile correctly without damaging it.
Finally, being a stone with a vacuolar structure, travertine has many holes on its surface. In some contexts, such as rustic or antique, the stone can be smoothed but leaving the holes open. In other situations, however, it is possible to work the surface by filling the holes or finishing them with cement/plaster, mastic or resin.

Applying plaster on travertine

As mentioned above, travertine is a stone with a high presence of vacuoles. Applying plaster on travertine or grouting travertine, to make it more resistant to atmospheric agents, is therefore a consolidated practice and this finish can be achieved with different products. Generally, porous travertine is grouted with concrete or with a special stucco for travertine marble; however, resin (preferably epoxy), which can be transparent, opaque or colored, and mastic are also widely used.

The cutting of travertine: vein cut and cross cut

To conclude, a last very important aspect when speaking of travertine is travertine vein cut vs cross cut. These two terms refer to the direction of the cut with which the travertine is cut: in the case of cross-cut travertine, the cut occurs parallel to the stratification; in the case of vein-cut travertine, the cut is perpendicular to the stratification.
The cut is therefore fundamental especially when it comes to travertine since the final result is very different, so much so that it suggests two totally different materials, even if they come from the same block. Let’s now see the difference of travertine vein cut vs cross cut.
The vein cut travertine is historically the most common type. By cutting it thanks to this technique, a travertine slab with marked and clear streaks is obtained, which represent the limestone deposits which have deposited one on top of the other over the course of geological eras.
However, cross cut travertine is also increasingly used: here the stratifications are not visible and, instead of the veins, there are the so-called “nuvolature”, that is to say light or dark spots that cover the travertine slab making it unique and unrepeatable.

Pros and cons of travertine

In conclusion, let’s sum up the pros and cons of travertine, whether it is used for a floor, for a countertop, for the bathroom wall cladding or other. Among the benefits of travertine stone, we cannot mention its undisputable beauty: travertine natural stone is characterized by a classical timeless beauty which is able to enhance every space as well as increase the value of your entire house. Durability is another key good point of travertine: travertine rock is tough and thus bear scratching and treading, making it a versatile solution both for interior and exterior applications.
Travertine needs particular and regular maintenance; nothing impossible but if you want to maintain this stone in good condition you have to take care and learn how to clean travertine tile properly. Beyond maintenance, the drawbacks of travertine can be related to a few of this stone technical specifications. Being a natural stone, it is hard and it is cool: that means that travertine feels harder than other flooring material and it generally stays cool, therefore can be good for hot temperature countries and less for cold ones.
What is certain is that given the infinite possibilities that this stone offers, the solutions are many and all valid if you rely on industry experts such as the Dedalo Stone team.

Photo Fontana di Trevi: ArtHouse Studio da Pexels.

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