The Tyrrhenian Sea is a Neogene back-arc basin formed by continental extension at the rear of the eastward migrating Apennine subduction system. Its central part, generated from Tortonian to Pliocene, includes the Sardinia rifted margin to the west, an area with large volcanoes in the deep central sector, and the Campania rifted margin to the east. A reprocessing of some 2000 km of MCS lines, a new swath bathymetric map, and a review of previous geological and geophysical data allow to analyse the nature and distribution of continental vs. oceanic crust in this area, which evolvedin a short time span. The central portion of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea is characterized by MOHO at about 10 km depth. North of Magnghi and Vavilov Smts, this thinned crustal domain include a wide continent–ocean transition, with the occurrence of extensional allochthons and of serpenitinzed sub-continental mantle, recalling other well known rifted margins, as the Iberia one. Sectors floored by oceanic crust should occur, mainly in the southern part of the study area, but they do not appear related to discrete spreading ridges. The continent–ocean boundary cannot be drawn unequivocally in the area, due also to the occurrence of widespread and huge magmatic manifestations not related to oceanic spreading. These portions of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea represents therefore a complex oceanic back-arc basin surrounded by magmarich rifted continental margins. The abundant igneous manifestations and the very high stretching rates observed in the area may be related to the fact that the present Tyrrhenian area was occupied by an orogenic domain affected by shortening until middle Miocene times, which is just before the Late Miocene onset of back-arc extension. The lithosphere in the region had then to be rheologically weak. Abundant generation and ascent of magmas, mostly of Ocean Island Basalt type, was favoured by the large lithospheric permeability induced by strong extensional deformations.
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