New Lu-Hf garnet growth ages from high-pressure rocks from the structurally lowest terrane (Nevado-Filábride Complex) in the Betic Cordillera of southern Spain indicate early Miocene subduction of continental crust, requiring significant revision of the timing and processes of orogeny in the western part of the Alpine orogenic system. Mafic eclogite and pelitic schist give Lu-Hf ages in the range 18–14 Ma, and fission-track data show that the terrane was exhumed by 12–8 Ma. The overlying terrane (Alpujárride Complex) shows early Tertiary high pressure-temperature metamorphism; this was followed by a thermal event that accompanied rapid crustal extension at 22–18 Ma, leading to the formation of the Alboran Sea backarc basin. The evidence therefore suggests two phases of continental subduction separated by a phase of large-scale intraorogenic extension. The two terranes are now separated by a mid-late Miocene low-angle extensional fault. The timing and paleogeographic setting suggest that the Nevado-Filábride terrane originally was close to the rifted South Iberian margin, and was subducted during westward motion of the extending upper terrane between the converging African and Iberian plates.