Types of marble (or “marble varities”) have, since ancient times, been named in various ways. The use of marble, typical in the classical era (i.e. Greek and Roman architecture) is still relevant today. Its veining, fine colors and exclusive brightness make it the preferred material for every kind of surface covering; furthermore, marble is often utilised for decorating the interiors of refined and sophisticated settings, and in high profile public and private locations such as villas, hotels, condominiums and luxury residences.
Marble, like granite, belongs to a category common to all natural stones, but at the same time is distinct, being of a more precious kind, and valued for its unique characteristics.
Types of marble: classification by composition
A first macro level categorization of the types of marbles available in nature, can be traced on the basis of composition, as follows:
– pure calcareous marbles
Generally composed of large crystals, these marbles are pure, without fossils inside. They are devided into saccharoids, spatic marbles, alabaster and travertine. They can be produced in white or colored. The saccharoid marbles are so called because they look like crystallized sugar, while the spatic marbles are made of crystals resulting from precipitation due to oversaturation. The alabaster marbles are of stalaticte origin and have a compact, translucent, reddish or brownish appearance, derived from water deposits inside cavities. Last but not least, travertine marbles, white or yellow-brown in color, often carrying a vegetable imprint, are the result of a process that contributes to its porous formation with the many vacuoles typical of this stone.
– calcareous cripto-crystalline marbles
These types of marble are characterized by a less obvious crystalline composition and carry multicolored ancient fossils (a few example: Verona yellow and red marbles, Trento marbles, the Botticino marble from around Brescia used to build Altare della Patria national monument, the votive chapel of the Unknown Soldier in Rome, and the Karst stones).
– clastic marbles
These marbles are identified by little pieces of rock deposits, cemented fossils, calcareous or siliceous materials. Examples of this variety are seen in marbles around Lucca, such as those of Serravezza in the area of Pietrasanta.
– serpentine marbles
Also known as ‘Prato’s green marbles’, they take their name from a siliceous stone called ‘serpentine’, mixed with limestone. Sometimes they are in darker colors, closer to yellow or blue.
Types of marble: categorization by provenance
It is hard to provide a complete list of marble varieties with their exact country of provenance. Marble designs are radically changing and also emerging countries are starting to have an impact on the luxury interior design sector. Currently we can summarize the major varieties used in design as follows:
– Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Algeria)
– Asia Minor (Turkey, above all)
– Europe (in particular: Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium, France, Czech Republic and Ireland)
– America (United States, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil)
Types of marble originating from African countries
The most commercially valuable types of marble from Africa are located in Egypt, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Algeria.
Examples are “Galala”, the Egyptian stone dug from a mountain named Galala, located on the famous Suez Canal, and the well known “Alabaster” or onyx-marble stone.
We are referring here to the ‘marmor alabastrum’ described by the ancient Latins: as Plinio said, the term ‘alabastrum’ takes its name from a fortress named ‘Alabastra’, built in Thebes, Egypt, where there were many quarries used in the construction of temples. According to some reports, moreover, Gizah’s pyramides were totally covered with white alabaster, to reflect moonlight at night.
Also famous were the Ancient yellow marble (or Numidian marble) originating from quarries located in Tunisia, near the current village of Chemtou, and the ‘Dalati’, predominantely white marble, which comes from Ethiopia.
Types of marble originating from Asia Minor
In the western area of the Asian continent we find marbles of remarkable quality and prestige.
Take for example the extra white Makrana, used extensively in the famous Taj Mahal, World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, or the Fregian marble, originating from area of Asia of the same name, in Egea (south-western Turkey).
This example of white marble is called ‘pavonazzetto’ (peacock’s way), a term mainly used in Italy, referring to the marble’s dark purple veins, as in the peacock’s tail.
The Proconesio marbles originated from Turkey (their ancient Greek name is Prokonesios, in the Marmara sea, so called from the Greek word ‘Marmaros’= ‘marble’), widely used during the Roman empire, between the 1st B.C. and the 5th century A.D.
Oman and Pakistan too, are blessed with marbles of ancient tradition.
Italian marbles and European marbles
Italy is one of the main countries in Europe involved in the stone market. Italian marbles are amongst the most luxurious and requested around the world. ‘Botticino’ marble, Carrara marble, Calacatta marble, Siena marble, and the red marble of Verona are the most popular examples.
Spain is the home of the popular Nero Marquina, a black marble with white veins (which sporadically tend to green) marble, characterized by a thin and compact grain. This marble is extracted in Marquina, a Basque village so named after its stone. Other noteworthy varieties of marble originating from Spain are the Dark Emperador and Crema Manfil. These are not actual ‘marbles’: in fact, the first one is actually a breach stone, of a bright brown color, with thin irregular grain and golden veins, specifically manufactured in the south western ‘canteras’ (quarries) area, halfway between Murcia and Albacete; the second one, is a calcareous stone in cream and beige shades, drawn from the El Coto mountains in Pinoso (Alicante) and currently exported to over 100 countries around the world.
Greece is another cornerstone in Europe for marble production, with a wide range of historically prestigious varieties of stone. Thassos, Pighes, Sivec and Ariston are popular varieties of white marbles, while among the colored ones the best known are the grey Kavala, black Levadia and Vytina, beige Mykines and Giannena, the greens of Grama and Tinos, the pinks (Golden, Ptelos, Pilion) in addition to the reds (Candia, Ritsona and Eretria).
In the remaining countries of Europe, it is worth noting other varieties of common and high quality marble, such as the red marbles of Rance (Belgium) – one of the top luxury marbles even used at Versailles Palace, of a brown, red color with white, ash grey and turquoise veins; the French marbles ‘Griottes’ and ‘Brocatelle de Moulins’, with white marble used in the flooring of Notre Dame Cathedral; the Czech Marbles in Silvenec and Kilkenny’s black marble in Ireland (this explains its denomination as ‘The Marble City’).
Types of marble originating from American continent
The varieties of marble of greatest importance on this continent are extracted from 4 countries: Brazil, United States, Mexico and Argentina.
Brazil is one of the most important countries for this market. Major production and exportation of natural stones come from Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Bahia and Creara. These states produce 40% of overall national product with over 1.000 types of natural stones.
In United States at least 9 types of valuable marble can be identified as follows:
– Creole marble (so called Georgian marble, since it originates in Pickens County quarries in Georgia): with granular consistency, it is characterized by a white or grey background,with light blue or black veins;
– Etowah marble, with pinkish, purple or ‘salmon’ shades, it also originates from Georgia;
– St. Genevieve marble (from the town in Missouri with the same name), it subdivides in Rose and Gold Vein, depending on the different colors and veins);
– Sylacauga marble, originating from Alabama area, has a white color and crystalline nature;
Tennessee marble, characterized by white to rose shades;
– Vermont marble, usually white marble;
– Tuckahoe marble (dolomitic marble), it varies in color from a light grey to light green, from a bright white-blue to a bright white;
– Yule marble, formation of clear calcite, of uniform and bright white color, it is excavated from a quarry located in the Elk Mountains, Colorado)
In addition to Brazil, there are other South American countries, such as Mexico and Argentina, that can boast a tradition in marble, given the particular geological characteristics of these regions’ quarries. Some examples are white San Luis marble, light blue Cordoba marble and grey Punilla marble in Argentina, as well as the onyx marble of Nuevo Leon and the marble of Puebla.
Types of precious marble
In addition to the famous Carrara marble, another type of precious marble is “perlato di Sicilia” (also called “Botticino di Sicilia”). From the light ivory color and the warm brown veins, some coatings with this type of marble are found in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Royal Palace of Caserta and in the New Milan Central Station. Its extraction develops in Custonaci, in the Trapani area.
Other luxury (and italian) marbles are Candoglia marble (pink color, some examples can be found in the Duomo of Milan) and travertine (the famous Colosseum used a lot of the well-known “marble of Rome“, color beige).