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A detailed dispersion analysis of Rayleigh waves generated by local earthquakes and occasionally by blasts that occurred in southern Spain, was undertaken to obtain the shear-wave velocity structure of the region at shallow depth. Our database includes seismograms generated by 35 seismic events that were recorded by 15 single-component short-period stations from 1990 to 1995. All these events have focal depths less than 10 km and body-wave magnitudes between 3.0 and 4.0, and they were all recorded at distances between 40 and 300 km from the epicentre. We analysed a total of 90 source-station Rayleigh-wave paths. The collected data were processed by standard digital filtering techniques to obtain Rayleigh-wave group-velocity dispersion measurements. The path-averaged group velocities vary from 1.12 to 2.25 km/s within the 1.0-6.0 s period interval. Then, using a stochastic inversion approach we obtained 1-D shear-wave velocity–depth models across the study area, which were resolved to a depth of circa 5 km. The inverted shear-wave velocities range approximately between 1.0 and 3.8 km/s with a standard deviation range of 0.05–0.16 km/s, and show significant variations from region to region. These results were combined to produce 3-D images via volumetric modelling and data visualization. We present images that show different shear velocity patterns for the Betic Cordillera. Looking at the velocity distribution at various depths and at vertical sections, we discuss of the study area in terms of subsurface structure and S-wave velocity distribution (low velocity channels, basement depth, etc.) at very shallow depths (0–5 km). Our results characterize the region sufficiently and lead to a correlation of shear-wave velocity with the different geological units features.