The alternative relationships that can exist between a mountain front and the adjacent foreland basin have been recognized for many years. However, seismic reflection data from such areas are commonly of poor quality and therefore structural models may contain large uncertainties. In view of scientific and commercial interest in mountain belts, we have reviewed the methods for discriminating between alternative interpretations using a case study from the Montagna dei Fiori in the central Apennines, Italy. In this area Mesozoic and Tertiary carbonate sediments are juxtaposed with a foredeep basin containing up to 7 km of Messinian and Plio-Pleistocene siliciclastic sediments. A new structural model for this area demonstrates how the structures in this area form a kinematically closed system in which displacement is transferred from the thrust belt to blind structures beneath the present-day foreland. Growth strata show that Pliocene shortening was initially rapid (15 mm a−1) followed by slower rates during the final stages of deformation. Variations in structural elevation indicate a component of basement involvement during thrusting, and this is further supported by magnetic modelling. The results illustrate the interaction of thin- and thick-skinned structures in the central Apennines, and the methods for discriminating between alternative structural models.