During prophase I of meiosis, homologous chromosomes pair, synapse and exchange their genetic material through reciprocal homologous recombination, a phenomenon essential for faithful chromosome segregation. Partial sequence identity between non-homologous and heterologous chromosomes can also lead to recombination (ectopic recombination), a highly deleterious process that rapidly compromises genome integrity. To avoid ectopic exchange, homology recognition must be extended from the narrow position of a crossover-competent double-strand break to the entire chromosome. Here, we review advances on chromosome behaviour during meiotic prophase I in higher plants, by integrating centromere- and telomere dynamics driven by cytoskeletal motor proteins, into the processes of homologue pairing, synapsis and recombination. Centromere-centromere associations and the gathering of telomeres at the onset of meiosis at opposite nuclear poles create a spatially organised and restricted nuclear state in which homologous DNA interactions are favoured but ectopic interactions also occur. The release and dispersion of centromeres from the nuclear periphery increases the motility of chromosome arms, allowing meiosis-specific movements that disrupt ectopic interactions. Subsequent expansion of interstitial synapsis from numerous homologous interactions further corrects ectopic interactions. Movement and organisation of chromosomes, thus, evolved to facilitate the pairing process, and can be modulated by distinct stages of chromatin associations at the nuclear envelope and their collective release. © 2020. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.