In the fourth of our series of blogs about the origins of natural stone, we are looking at where travertine comes from. It is a natural sedimentary rock that is most often found in Italy but travertine deposits are also common in Turkey, Mexico, Peru, Croatia, Iran and even China. It is also found in the USA but most of the material used there is imported. The quality and characteristic of travertine differ depending on the region of its origin due to the different geology there.
Formation of Travertine
Travertine is a terrestrial sedimentary rock with crystalline-texture and is composed of calcite (CaCO3), which is form of a limestone deposited by hot mineral springs. It is formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals and its porosity is due to the presence of organisms such as macrophytes, bryophytes, algae, etc. Its natural colour is white but travertine is also found in tan, creamy or rusty varieties. The red colour of travertine and its different intensity is due to the presence of iron carbonate. This natural stone is mostly formed at the mouth of hot springs or in limestone caves, where it forms different speleothems (cave formations), such as stalactites and stalagmites.
Travertine Creek in Sulfur, Oklahoma, USA
Broken travertine speleothem from Shenandoah Caverns visitor center, Quicksburg, Virginia, USA
Travertine stalactites at Crystal Onyx Cave, near Cave City, Kentucky, USA
Travertine Quarries and Supply
About 30 years ago, until the 1980s, Italy was the main supplier of travertine and had a monopoly on the market. The most famous quarries in Italy are in Guidonia Montecelio and in Tivoli, while the name of the latter district and the word travertine have the same origin from the Latin word tiburtinus through the Italian travertino. The natural stone was quarried in Italy since Ancient Roman times and was used primarily as building material. Nowadays, significant travertine suppliers are Turkey, Mexico, Peru and Iran. There are two-three small producers in the USA, in its western part and the most famous place for travertine formation, that is also visited by many tourists is Yellowstone National Park. There are also two parks dedicated to this natural stone in Oklahoma. Pamukkale in Turkey is also one of the beloved tourist destinations, which attracts with its vast white panorama. Its name means "cotton castle" derived from the look of the rocks and consists of hot springs and travertine terraces. Another huge travertine deposit in Europe is located in Croatia in the valley known as Plitvice Lakes National Park. It took travertine several millennia to form sixteen huge natural lakes and several waterfalls, the highest one falling from 70 m to the ground.
Travertine quarry in Denizli, Turkey
Orange travertine at Crystal Geyser, Utah, USA
Travertine pools at Pamukkale, Turkey
Travertine terraces, Mammouth Hot Springs, Yellowstone, USA
Travertine Qualities and Usage
One of the most distinctive and preferred features of travertine is its weathered and rustic look, which makes it the perfect stone if you want to recreate this romantic atmosphere at your home. As it is a porous stone, travertine tiles are offered in two variants – filled and unfilled. The filled ones are smoother, more durable and have a more modern look compared to the natural porous ones. The finishing of the tile is also important as it highlights one or another quality of this excellent material. There are usually four types of finishes that are applied to travertine – honed, polished, brushed and tumbled. Polished travertine is bright and shiny and very smooth. It will reflect light in amazing way and sometimes it is even mistaken for marble with this finish. One of the drawbacks is that such tiles are quite slippery especially when wet. Honed travertine, on the other hand, is the most preferred option both for floor and counter top tiles. The surface is still polished but not to a glossy bright extent but left matte and is non-slippery. This type of finish is closer to the natural look of the stone. Tumbled and brushed travertine look a lot alike. The tiles with such a finish have muted colours and almost doesn't reflect the light. Tumbled travertine has a distinctive weathered and antiqued look.
Since Ancient times travertine is being used as building material and a lot of amphitheaters, aqueducts, baths, etc. were made of it. An excellent example of the longevity of the stone is the Coliseum, which is the biggest building made almost entirely of travertine. Other famous buildings and structures include the Colonnade of St. Peter's Square in Rome, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris and many others. Even Michelangelo chose travertine for the external ribs of the dome of St Peter's Basilica. In modern history travertine is also used for construction and outer layer of famous buildings some of which are the Shell-Haus in Berlin and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. As a contrast to the magnificent buildings comes yet another usage of travertine – as a stone for beautiful jewelry. It can be turned into amazing pendants, bracelets, necklaces, etc. Some modern artists also turn the stone into beautiful sculptures that interact with the environment.
Shell-Haus, Berlin, Germany
Getty Center, Los Angeles, USA
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris, France
The Coliseum, Rome, Italy
Family: from another place, 2010. Red Iranian Travertine stone, Great Queen Street, London. By David Worthington
Travertine, however, is mostly popular as tiles used for floors, walls, backsplashes or counter tops. Its qualities and aesthetic values make it a preferred material both for indoor and outdoor projects. It is often chosen for paving patios or constructing garden paths. You can browse through the great variety of travertine that we offer here.