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Tips & Articles

Tips & Articles

Natural Stone Through the Centuries

natural-stone-history

Various types of natural stones have been quarried throughout the centuries and used for the construction of buildings, monuments and roads. Some of the ancient creations still stun us with their timeless beauty and are the standing proof of natural stone longevity.  

Today, in our private and public buildings we use marble, travertine, limestone, granite and special techniques for their processing and application that have been introduced many years ago. Let's see who stands behind our modern and inspiring creations. 

 

Natural Stone in Egypt 

natural-stone-egypt-pyramids

The Egyptians were the first civilization to master the art of stonework. They used to quarry and build with natural stone thousands of years ago and yet some of their creations still amaze the world. Such an example is the Great Pyramid of Cheops (The Great Pyramid of Giza) that was made of limestone blocks around 2560 BC. The Pyramid is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world that visitors still admire every day. It is believed that the rough limestone blocks were covered with smooth casing stone that, unfortunately, was stolen over the years. In addition to its massive construction, the Pyramid also strikes with its interior. The burial chamber of the pharaoh is made by granite blocks that match so perfectly together that even today one cannot slide a piece of paper between them. 

 

Natural Stone in the Greek Empire 

marble-temple-greek

The builders in the Greek Empire also loved natural stone. Marble was one of the stones used for the construction of grand structures such as the Temple of Artemis, which had 127 columns, each 5 stories high. It was another of the ancient wonders, which was deliberately destroyed by conquerors and therefore only its foundation and several columns are still visible today. Ancient Greek mastered the art of quarrying and shaping marble and raised many other temples and monuments – the Parthenon, the Theseum, the Temple of Zeus are a few to name. They were also the first to utilize this gorgeous stone in their homes. Baths and pools were lined with marble quarried in Greece that is still on the market today. The modern marble bathroom is inspired by these skillful creations.

 

Natural Stone in the Roman Empire  

pantheon-rome-granite-columns

Around the first century AD the Romans ruled the world and the Roman Empire is still praised for the roads it built. The material used for the Roman roads was granite – a sign of the stone durability and resilience. Many other structures were made of granite like baths and the columns of the Pantheon of Rome. In addition to roads, Romans built many baths, aqueducts, temples. Granite and travertine were one of the most frequently used stones, however marble was the ultimate epitome of beauty and power. Unlike the other civilizations, Romans had a special manner of building. They made the main construction of brick and mortar and lined them with marble slabs. This allowed the faster construction of museums, temples and monuments and is a technique that is still used today. The attitude of the Romans towards building and marble can be summarized in the words of Emperor Augustus: "Urbem latericium invenit, marmorea reliquit" meaning "Found a city of bricks and left a city of marble". 

It is interesting to note that even a lot of natural stone was quarried in Rome, some marble was also imported from Greece as the Romans admired its qualities.  

 

History of Natural Stone Floors 

mosaic-floor

Natural stones were utilized as flooring material since the very beginning of their usage. 5000 years ago, Egyptians used them to cover floors of palaces and pyramids. The pyramids in Giza are the oldest still existing example of natural stone flooring in the world. 

There is evidence that around 3000 years ago, ancient Greeks created beautiful floor mosaics by placing pebbles into a mortar bed. Later, the pebbles were replaced by flat pieces of colourful stone tiles, known as tesserae.  Marble was also used as a luxury flooring option and was especially loved by the Greeks for its abilities to reflect sunlight.  

In the Carthagian Empire marble floors were a sign of prestige, wealth and social status and thus the stone was often used to cover the floors of royal palaces.  

The Romans not only used natural stone flooring for both private and public buildings but also introduced the hypocaust, which is the first form of below surface radiant heating. Modern slate floors are a perfect choice if you are planning such centralized heating for your home. 

Unfortunately, after the fall of the Roman empire the art of elaborate and beautiful natural stone and mosaic floors was lost to Western Europe. Part of the tradition was preserved in the Byzantine Empire. 

Nowadays, the usage of natural stone tiles for flooring has been revived and is no longer limited only to the wealthy.  

 

Types of Stone Used Today 

natural-stone-quarry

 

It is safe to say that nowadays we use two types of stone for building and decoration – natural stone and manmade. The manmade varieties or artificial stones are several types. 

  • Coade Stone, known as Lithodipyra was the first type of artificial stone used. It was invented by Eleanor Coade around 1770 and comprised of sand and powdered flint in alkaline solution, which were bound together by heating. Coade stone was vastly used for decorative architectural work, monuments and tombstones.  
  • Victoria stone was introduced after Coade stone. It was made of crushed granitesolid surface and Portland cement. The stone produced was non-porous and able to withstand harsh weather conditions and the corroding influence of sea water. 
  • Cast stone is a modern unit made from white and/or grey cement, sands, gravel and pigments to achieve the desired colour. It is used for masonry applications and successfully replaces natural limestone, granite, slate, travertine and other natural stones used for building. 
  • Engineered stone is the latest manmade stone that was invented in the beginning of the 1980s by the Italian Marcello Toncelli. Engineered stone is made of marble powder, resin and pigment cast. Vacuum oscillation is used to form blocks, which are further cut into slabs and polished. Engineered marble and engineered quartz are the main two types of stone used. Engineered marble is applied mainly in large commercial constructions as flooring, while engineered quartz is used for countertops, floors and walls in small-scale projects.  

 

The types of natural stones that are used today fall into three groups depending on their origin and formation method. These are: 

  • Sedimentary rocks – they are formed from the sedimentation of organic elements into glaciers, rivers, oceans under the influence of wind, heat and pressure. Such popular stones are limestone, travertine, sandstone, soapstone. 
  • Metamorphic rocks – they are the result of a change from one type of stone into another due to the presence of minerals, heat and pressure. Marble is the most well-known metamorphic rock and slate and serpentine are other popular examples. 
  • Igneous rocks are formed from volcanic material such as the cooling of magma. Granite is the proudest representative of the group that is utilized in construction and decoration since ancient times. 

 

Natural Stone Names and Colours  

natural-stone-colours-marble

Natural stones come in a great variety of colours that ranges from white to black. The diversity is not only between the different stones. Each type of natural stone has various shades and nuances depending on its place of origin and the minerals that are part of its composition. Calcite, found mainly in limestone and travertine, for example, contributes to the presence of more pearlescent and pale colours. Mica and feldspar, found in granite, colour the stone in green, while hematite can give slate more reddish or purple shades 

Originally, the names of natural stones and their colours were in Italian. The name consisted of two parts – the first word indicated the colour and the second – the place of origin. Thus, Bianco Carrara means White marble from Carrara, Italy and Negro Marquina refers to Black limestone from Marquina, Spain. Today, most natural stones are identified in the same way, however many companies create their own names or use only the English version or a mixture. Nevertheless, there are names, such as Italian Carrara Marble that will always remain popular and recognizable in the industry since the stone quarried in Carrara is of the highest quality and mostly sought after by customers.  

Here is a list of the most common colours in Italian and their English counterpart for your convenience: 

Italian  

English  

Azzuro 

Blue 

Bianco 

White 

D'oro/Dorato 

Gold  

Giallo 

Yellow 

Negro/Nero 

Black 

Perla/Perlato 

Pearl 

Rosa 

Pink 

Rosso 

Red 

Verde 

Green 

 

Some other terms that you may come across in the description of stones are Breccia meaning broken pieces and Fiore, which stands for flower.  

In some cases, the place of origin is incorporated in the name of the stone. Such an example is Dionyssomarble, which is quarried in Dionyssos, Greece.  

 

If you are interested to learn more about the history of natural stone and how it was used throughout history, the Marble Institute of America produced a documentary titled "The History of Humans and Natural Stone" available in YouTube. In this almost 1-hour film you will learn interesting facts about how and which natural stones were used, how they were quarried and processed. You can also admire some of the impressive buildings created many centuries ago but still standing as a proof of the durability, longevity and timeless beauty of natural stone. 

 

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