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In recent years, the origin of the Betic-Rif orocline has been the subject of considerable debate. Much of this debate has focused on mechanisms required to generate rapid late-orogenic extension with coeval shortening. Here we summarize the principal geological and geophysical observations and propose a model for the Miocene evolution of the Betic-Rif mountain belts, which is compatible with the evolution of the rest of the western Mediterranean. We regard palaeomagnetic data, which indicate that there have been large rotations about vertical axes, and earthquake data, which show that deep seismicity occurs beneath the Alboran Sea, to be the most significant data sets. Neither data set is satisfactorily accounted for by models which invoke convective removal or delamination of lithospheric mantle. Existing geological and geophysical observations are, however, entirely consistent with the existence of a subduction zone which rolled or peeled back until it collided with North Africa. We suggest that this ancient subducting slab consequently split into two fragments, one of which has continued to roll back, generating the Tyrrhenian Sea and forming the present-day Calabrian Arc. The other slab fragment rolled back to the west, generating the Alboran Sea and the Betic-Rif orocline during the early to middle Miocene.