The time of the onset and the nature of the extension in the Aegean area have been problematic owing to the confusion of neotectonic replacement structures with neotectonic revolutionary structures. This paper concerns two rift systems of different ages and orientations in the Gökova region of southwestern Anatolia. The first system has a northwest—southeast trend with a Middle to Upper Miocene infill, whereas the second system is orientated in an east—west direction and filled with Plio-Quaternary rocks. Structural and palaeomagnetic data indicate that the first system originally had a north—south trend, and then bodily rotated anticlockwise to its present orientation before the end of the Miocene. Both the orientations and the structural patterns of these cross-cutting rift systems suggest that they resulted from two different and successive tectonic régimes. Regional geology suggests that the generative régime of the older system was characterized by north—south compression and related to the palaeotectonic evolution of southwestern Anatolia, whereas that of the younger system is characterized by north-south extension and relates to the neotectonic evolution of this region. This inference contradicts, at least in southwestern Anatolia, some recent claims that the extensional tectonics and the related rift formation in the Aegean region began in the early Miocene, with the alleged demise of the compressional palaeotectonics during the late Oligocene, but is consistent with older views that placed the onset of north—south extension into the later middle Miocene. The formation of the Aegean Sea seems to be the result of these two complicated and contrasting, succesive tectonic regimes that have affected this region since middle Miocene times.