Cobblestone paving: historical background, laying techniques and inspirations

By 9 October 2018Magazine, Mosaics
cobblestone paving

Cobblestone floors consist of spherical stones, commonly known as cobblestones. By using river and stream cobbles smoothed by the water, which lends them an aesthetically pleasing flawed shape, it’s possible to create decorous and well-finished outdoor floors, which are also long-lasting and weatherproof. This solution is not very demanding in terms of maintenance and management, and guarantees a good permeability of rainfall and a proper drainage.

The prestigious company Fantini Mosaici | Marmi, a world-renown symbol par excellence of the “Made in Italy”, manufactures outdoor floors with cobblestone technique. This technique allows, generally speaking, to use coloured stones from marble cutting and other natural stones that were carefully selected and collected from the beds of rivers flowing in Northern Italy.

For over a century, the craftsmen of Fantini Mosaici | Marmi have manufactured, tile after tile, unique and inimitable floors that can be considered true works of art, and have contributed to exporting the Italian excellence everywhere in the world, from the Emirates, to Sri Lanka, to Australia, to the United States.

Let’s look into the fascinating cobblestone technique, together with its history and its features.


cobblestone paving leaf

Cobblestone paving and its historical background

Cobblestone paving is a very ancient technique. The first examples of cobblestone floors made of stones collected from river and stream beds actually date back to the 7th century BC.

Starting from the 18th century, cobblestone paving has gradually replaced dirt roads and squares in many villages. This technique used to be the most common type of flooring in Italian towns and cities, until it gave way to asphalt.

Its elegance, the harmony of its shapes and the variety of patterns that can be created with installation make cobblestone paving still suitable for embellishing historic centres and squares in small to large urban centres, churchyards, historic gardens, and aristocratic palaces porches and courtyards.

The different types of cobblestone paving

Mosaic floors with colourful stone tiles have got a great expressive potential. There are countless types, from the simplest patterns to the more complex and elaborate ones. River cobbles are often used together with porphyry for paving private open spaces.

The most common types are:
– a simple undecorated cobblestone floor;
– a square pattern made of same-colour stones arranged in tidy lines, which help rainwater drainage. An example is the access road to the church of Santa Maria del Baraccano, in Bologna;
– cobble squares surrounded by bricks, which are placed so as to form squares and geometric patterns like stars or circles;
– different-coloured cobblestone mosaics, with geometric or figurative patterns such as stars, seashells, coats of arms and branches.

River cobblestones combine aesthetics with practicality, as they contribute to carrying run-off water away.

Cobblestone flooring installation

Laying a cobblestone floor is a relatively easy operation and basically consists in sticking the cobbles into a soft base, which can be made of sand, topsoil, mortar or concrete.

The laying phase is preceded by an accurate washing procedure to remove any rubble, sand, dirt or impurities that the stones, which are naturally porous, tend to absorb. Cobblestone size usually ranges from 10 centimetres for undecorated floors to approximately 2 centimetres for thin decorative patterns, such as the outdoor floors of Villa Bellagio by Fantini Mosaici | Marmi.




colombo cobblestone paving hall


After washing the natural stones, the next step is the preparation and levelling of the base on which they are going to be laid, in order to make it as flat and homogeneous as possible.

Sand, topsoil, coarse gravel or rubble were once used as draining materials for the base. Starting from the 16th century, lime or pozzolana were added to the base in order to reinforce the product, up to the adding of concrete at the end of the 19th century.

A layer of dry-mixed sand and cement is usually poured and is then beaten or compressed with a steamroller. A slot for every single stone is dug with a hammer, the cobblestones are placed manually and are beaten with a wooden mallet, making sure that every stone is laid at the same height as the previous one.

In order to create decorative geometric patterns, a straight wood plank is used for stone alignment. Alternatively, it’s possible to proceed along guiding lines that consist of taut strings fastened to pegs.

Afterwards, the gaps between cobblestones are filled with sand mixed with lime, cement or a hydraulic binder. And lastly, the damping of the cobblestone floor concludes the process.

An alternative consists in using a quicker technique that vaguely resembles the one used for installing terrazzo floors. Cobblestones are laid on the base and the interspace between them is filled with a mortar made of hydraulic lime, pozzolana and opus signinum.

How to lay river cobblestones

Cobblestones can be laid:

– vertically, with the major axis placed perpendicularly;
– horizontally, facing down, ideal for oblong stones;
– horizontally, on the side, for ovoid-shaped stones.

The variation with sheared cobblestones, with exposed sheared side, lends a better planarity to the floor and guarantees greater adherence while passing on it, whether you’re on foot or in a vehicle.

Depending on cobblestone size and the result you wish to get, the installers will choose the most suitable laying technique. By relying on the competent and experienced craftsmen team working for Fantini Mosaici | Marmi you will be able to create or restore yards and outdoor floors with natural cobblestones, a refined touch recalling old traditions for your gardens and open spaces.


private residence miami cobblestone paving


Cobblestone colours

Cobblestone colours are given by the materials which they are made of and depend on the various chemical and organic compounds that the rocks contain. The most common colours are:

– white for marble, limestone and some granite varieties;
– red for porphyry and ammonitic limestone;
– grey for pietra serena and flint;
– ochre for sandstone;
– green for serpentine;
– black for basalt.

As mentioned previously, Fantini Mosaici | Marmi uses natural cobblestones collected from riverbeds in combination with coloured stones from marble cutting. An example are the stones used for the entrance hall of the majestic Hotel and Residence Palazzo Versace in Dubai, which was inspired by a sixteenth-century Italian residence.

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