Apatite fission track analysis was performed on 56 samples from central Spain to unravel the far field effects of the Alpine plate tectonic history of Iberia. The modelled thermal histories reveal complex cooling in the Cenozoic, indicative of intermittent denudation. Accelerated cooling events occurred across the Spanish Central System (SCS) from the Middle Eocene to Recent. These accelerated cooling events resulted in up to 2.8 ± 0.9 km of denudation in the western Sierra de Gredos and 3.6 ± 1.0 km in the central and eastern Gredos (assuming a paleogeothermal gradient of 28 ± 5°C and a surface temperature of 10 °C). The greatest amount of denudation (5.0 ± 1.6 km) occurred in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Accompanying rock uplift was 4.7 ± 1.0 and 5.9 ± 1.6 km in the eastern Gredos and Guadarrama, respectively. Most denudation in the Gredos occurred from the Middle Eocene to the Early Miocene and can be related to the N-S stress field, induced by the Pyrenean compression. In the Guadarrama, the greatest denudation was Pliocene to Recent of age and seems related to the ongoing NW-SE Betic compression. The fact that the formation of the E-W trending Gredos coincides with the N-S Pyrenean compression and the creation of the present day morphology of the NE-SW trending Guadarrama with the younger NW-SE Betic compression, indicates that they record the far field effects of Alpine plate tectonics on Iberia. The trend of pre-existing lineaments was of major importance in influencing the style and magnitude of these of far field effects. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.