In the Central Mediterranean two back-arc basins, the Liguro-Provençal (LPb) and the Tyrrhenian basin (Tb), opened progressively and consecutively from the late Eocene–Oligocene to the present. Evolution in space and time of rifting and drifting processes, along three different transects across these basins, shows differences in the style of extension: LPb opened with the formation of a narrow, single rift, while in the Tb deformation and magmatism is spread over a wide area. Moreover at the Northern end of the Tb the locus of extension progressively migrated towards the east whereas in the Southern Tb the locus of extension and magmatism migrated inside the basin, inducing continental break-up and drifting of the previously formed older conjugate basins. We propose that these different styles of back-arc extension depend upon internal conditions, such as prerift rheology linked with its geological heritage, and external conditions, e.g. the style of subduction.