Travertine and marble tiles are derived from calcite, from which limestone, tufa and chalk are derived. Calcite under high geologic pressure hardens to form travertine rock. Under intense pressure and high temperatures, calcite metamorphosizes into marble, a denser and harder cousin of travertine.
Travertine and marble tiles resemble each other slightly. Both display a fine, highly compact grain developed from powdery rock. The ancient Romans used both materials for their projects: industrious and moldable travertine for such enterprising buildings as the Colosseum; and strong, thick-veined marble for grandiose palace floors and walls.
Today, builders use travertine tiles for casual-looking countertops and floors. Travertine is suited for an earthy, country or European decor, while marble fills a more luxurious and elegant niche. Commercial builders use marble for museum floors and bank walls; installed in a high-end kitchen or bath, marble lends an extravagant look.
Travertine is much more porous than marble and vulnerable to moisture, stains and foot-traffic scuffing. Marble is porous as well but withstands heavy traffic better. Both types of tiles need sealant to prevent stains and provide protection from water.
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