Hazelnut (Corylus avellana L.) is a traditional nut crop in southern Europe. Germplasm exploration conducted on-farm in five countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, and Greece) identified 77 landraces. The present work describes phenotypic variation in nut and husk traits and investigates genetic relationships using ten simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers among these landraces, 57 well-known references cultivars, and 19 wild accessions. Among the 77 landraces, 42 had unique fingerprints while 35 showed a SSR profile identical to a known cultivar. Among the 42 unique landraces, morphological observations revealed high phenotypic diversity, and some had characteristics appreciated by the market such as nut round and caliber. Analysis of genetic relationships and population structure allowed investigation of the origin and spread of the cultivated germplasm in southern Europe. Our results indicate the existence of three primary centers of diversity in the Mediterranean basin: northwestern Spain (Tarragona) and southern Italy (Campania) in the West and Black Sea (Turkey) in the East. Moreover, the data suggest the existence of secondary gene pools in the Iberian (Asturias) and Italian (Liguria and Latium) Peninsulas, where local varieties were recently domesticated from wild forms and/or from introduced ancient domesticated varieties. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.