The structural restoration of collision orogenic belts onto crustal templates provides important insights into the tectonic evolution, deep structure and amounts of plate convergence after the initial contact between two continental masses. Balanced cross-sections have been constructed, parallel to the local displacement directions, across the western Alps and western Himalayas and demonstrate very large amounts of crustal shortening above intra-crustal detachments. To achieve a balance, substantial volumes of lower crust must have been subducted beneath the two tectonic hinterlands. A model of eclogite metamorphism is invoked to facilitate this subduction and to explain the varying isostatic responses of the Alpine and Himalayan hinterlands. Patterns of eclogite metamorphism are controlled by the geometry of thrust profiles on a lithospheric scale: the development of crust-mantle detachments being of crucial importance. Such a profile is proposed for the Himalayas, suggesting that relatively small volumes of the footwall crust succumbed to eclogite metamorphism. In the Alps however, a steeper thrust profile apparently developed, emplacing mantle onto crust, causing wholescale eclogite metamorphism in the underlying Franco–Swiss crust. The resultant density increase would provide a mechanism of isostatic collapse and flexural subsidence in the Po plain region.