What is travertine? History of Architecture

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white stone

The travertine is the white stone in between the bricks (This is from the Colosseum in Rome)

Sedimentary stone

Travertine is a kind of sedimentary stone that is common in Italy. Like marble, travertine is a form of limestone.

Compressed limestone

When limestone is put under a lot of pressure for a long time (thousands of years), it can turn into travertine, the way peat turns into coal. If the travertine is left under pressure for thousands more years, it can turn into marble, the way carbon can turn into diamonds. So travertine is a kind of stone that is about halfway in between limestone and marble. It’s finer than limestone, but not as fine as marble.

This kind of stone is pretty soft  – for stone – so it is pretty easy to cut and shape the way you want it for your building. But it is not as rare or expensive as marble. So it was popular – architects liked to be able to make a building look important without too much work or expense.

Theater of Marcellus, Rome

Travertine on the theater of Marcellus, Rome

Roman travertine

The Romans used travertine on the main parts of buildings where it was too expensive to use marble. Often, for instance, the steps might be made of travertine while the columns or sculptures were made of marble. We do the same thing on modern buildings today.

Cathedral of Pisa (the Duomo)

Cathedral of Pisa (the Duomo)

Some examples of Roman buildings that use this kind of stone are the Colosseum in Rome or the Theater of Marcellus.

Medieval travertine

Architects also used this white stone in the Middle Ages, for example to build the cathedral at Pisa, in Italy.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Roman building stone? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: find a building in your city that uses travertine
More about limestone
More about marble

Bibliography and further reading about Roman architecture:

Houses, Villas, and Palaces in the Roman World, by Alexander McKay (reprinted 1998). A standard text on Roman houses.

Limestone
Marble
Tufa
Basalt
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By | 2018-04-15T00:29:02+00:00 May 25th, 2017|Architecture, Geology|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What is travertine? History of Architecture. Quatr.us Study Guides, May 25, 2017. Web. April 20, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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