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Rock Bottom Tile and Stone Blog

What is Travertine?

Sam Cohen - Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Travertine is a banded, compact type of limestone* formed near streams and hot or cold springs where calcium carbonate is deposited and evaporation results in a calcite-rich supersaturated solution.  It is one of the most frequently used and sought after natural stones in today’s modern architecture landscape. The process of its formation results in some incredible geological phenomena throughout the world, from Turkey to China to Spain to Guatemala to Yellowstone National Park right here in the United States.  These breathtaking occurrences generally take the form of large terraces, pools or “walls," and are indicative of the natural beauty that travertine and limestone possess.  Several examples of these pools and terraces are shown below:

(*Despite being scientifically classified as a form of limestone, the terms “Travertine” and “Limestone” are very distinct when discussed in the scope of building materials)

Badab-e Surt, Iran


Huanglong, China

Egerszalók, Hungary

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Pamukkale, Turkey

Travertine has been used for thousands of years as a building material due to its abundance and ease of quarrying.  In Ancient Rome, travertine deposits were quarried for use in the building of aqueducts, temples, monuments, bath houses, and amphitheatres.  The most famous of these amphitheatres is the great Roman Colosseum, which was completed around 80 AD and remains standing today as the largest building in the world constructed primarily of travertine.

Travertine Quarry

The Roman Colisseum

Other notable buildings that have made extensive use of travertine include the Shell-Haus in Berlin, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris, and the $1.3 billion Getty Center in Los Angeles which opened to the public in December of 1997 and has enjoyed around 1.3 million visitors annually ever since.  Pictured below is the castle of Burghausen in Germany.  This mammoth structure is Europe's longest castle, is over 1000 years old, and is built primarily of travertine.

Burghausen Castle, Germany

Travertine tiles come in several varieties of finish and many color schemes.  This versatility of the stone to be finished in different ways plays a large role in allowing you to select an aesthetic to match your theme, whether that is more modern or more on the natural side. 

The modern side of the conversation starts with the polished finish, which is perfectly smooth, flat, and very high-gloss/reflective.  This is a common finish for many colors of travertine, marble, granite, and some limestones.  The polish can act as another layer of protection for the stone as well, making this option popular for shower walls, countertops, and anywhere where a high gloss is desired.  Polishes can be worn away over time in the presence of heavy traffic however, making more natural finishes more common in high-traffic areas.  It can also reduce the traction or “grip” of the surface making it a less prevalent finish for bathroom floor applications.

For those seeking something slightly less reflective than a fully polished tile, we do carry a few colors of travertine and limestone in a high-honed finish.  This option is still perfectly smooth and flat, but is not as reflective and glossy as a polished tile nor is it as much of a matte finish as a honed tile.  This finish is more common with grey colors of travertine such as Silver and Philadelphia but can be found in other colors with other materials, such as Dorado and Seagrass Limestone.


From left to right: Brushed/Chiseled Edge, Honed/Filled, Tumbled, and Polished (Materials shown are from Golden Sienna line of products)

The next step down from the high-honed option is your standard honed tile.  This finish is extremely abundant in square format tiles such as 12x12, 16x16, and 18x18 travertine, and is highlighted by a very smooth, flat surface with a matte, non-reflective quality.  Due to the absence of the polished layer, this finish as well as the following two finishes are very well suited for high traffic areas.  The slightly increased traction of this finish versus the polished makes it a popular and easy to clean option for bathroom and kitchen floor projects.

The first “natural” finish of travertine is tumbled, which is very common for landscape pavers, smaller tiles used for backsplashes and shower pans including mosaics, and is also a readily available finish for square format tile and Versailles Patterns.  The tumbled finish is characterized by worn, slightly rounded edges, and a natural, textured, porous surface.  This finish often has a muting effect on the color of the tile, which can be brought back out by using an enhancer sealer or maintained with an impregnating sealer if you are after the “dry” look and more subdued color scheme.

The other natural looking finish that you will see a lot of on our website is brushed, which is generally accompanied by a chiseled edge in natural stone tile.  There are a few exceptions, but in general honed and polished tiles will have a straight edge, or a classic 90 degree drop off at the edge of the tile, while brushed materials will have the more rustic and antique looking chiseled edge.  A brushed surface is similar to the tumbled in that it is a very natural look and feel with a bit of texture, but it does not have the same worn/aged quality that the tumbled does.  It is also available pre-filled for some products and it is the most common surface finish available for the Versailles Pattern.  The brushed finish in general does not have the same muting effect to the color and movement of the stone as the tumbled finish does.

With so many color and finish combinations to choose from, there is a wonderful travertine option for just about any project.  For more information on caring for your travertine tile, please visit our Stone Info page:

Please keep in mind that when sealing natural stone tile, you always have the option of using an enhancer/enhancing sealer that will increase the contrast and bring out the color of the stone, or an impregnating sealer to retain the dry, natural look of the material if that is your preference. 

If you have questions or would like further information on any of the topics discussed here, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.



dubturbo commented on 15-Apr-2012 10:28 PM
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