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The upper allochthon of northwest Iberia represents the most exotic terrane of this part of the European Variscan belt. Recent advances in the metamorphic petrology, structural geology, and geochronology of the upper allochthon in the Órdenes complex are integrated into a synthesis of its tectonic evolution, constraining the main tectonothermal events. Important aspects of this synthesis are (1) the interpretation of Cambro-Ordovician magmatism and earliest metamorphic event, as the result of drifting of a peri-Gondwanan terrane; (2) the subsequent shortening and crustal thickening of the terrane related to its subduction and accretion to Laurussia; (3) a younger cycle of shortening and extension resulting from convergence between Laurussia and Gondwana; and (4) the emplacement of this exotic terrane as the upper allochthon, together with underlying ophiolitic and basal allochthons, during the Laurussia-Gondwana collision.

Implications derived from the well-established tectonothermal sequence are discussed in the context of Paleozoic paleogeography and geodynamics. The evolution of this part of the belt is related first to the closure of the Tornquist Ocean, and later to that of the eastern branch of the Rheic Ocean. Furthermore, the relative paleopositions of the upper allochthon and the Iberian autochthon in northern Gondwana are discussed.

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