The western Mediterranean is composed of irregular troughs formed as back-arc basins in the hanging wall of the W-directed Apenninic subduction which retreated eastward during Neogene and Quaternary times. The basins are progressively younger toward the east, ageing from late Oligocene-early Miocene (Valencia, Provençal, Alboran and Algerian basins), to middle Miocene-Pleistocene (Tyrrhenian Sea). The basins isolated boudins of continental lithosphere, the Sardinia-Corsica block representing the largest. The boudinage has a wavelength of 100-400 km and facilitated stretching of the continental lithosphere with formation of new oceanic crust in the Provençal, Algerian, Vavilov and Marsili basins. The boudins developed both in the earlier Alpine-Betic orogen (Alboran basin) and in its foreland (Provençal and Valencia troughs). The extension appears clearly asymmetric due to its eastward polarity, accommodated by E-dipping master low-angle normal faults. Moreover the thinning shows variations in boudinage wavelength and is characterized by several along-strike transfer zones and heterogeneities. The western Mediterranean back-arc setting is comparable with Atlantic and western Pacific back-arc basins associated with W-directed subduction zones that show similar large-scale lithospheric boudinage.