The Ofanto basin is a Pliocene–Pleistocene thrust-top basin that formed with an unusual east–west orientation along the frontal part of the Southern Apennine Allochthon during the latest stages of tectonic transport. Its tectonic and sedimentary evolution was studied integrating field surveys, biostratigraphic analyses and the interpretation of a large seismic grid. Well data and seismic interpretation indicate that a large east–west-trending normal fault underlies the northern margin of the basin, displacing the Apulian carbonates that form the foreland and the footwall of the Southern Apennine Allochthon. In our reconstruction the Ofanto basin formed at the rear of the bulge caused by buttressing of the Southern Apennine Allochthon against this normal fault. In a second stage of contraction, the footwall of the Southern Apennine Allochthon was involved in deformation with a different trend from the normal faulting and buttressing. This caused eastward tilting of the basin and broad folding around its eastern termination. Good stratigraphic constraints permit the age of buttressing to be defined as Early Pliocene, and that of the shortening in the Apulian carbonates as Early Pleistocene. This study highlights the importance of early orogenic normal faults in conditioning the evolution of the frontal parts of orogenic wedges. Supplementary material: A 3D reconstruction of the base of the Pliocene deposits of the Ofanto basin, based on seismic interpretation, is available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18559 .