The sarcoplasmic (SERCA 1a) Ca2+-ATPase is a membrane protein abundantly present in skeletal mucles where it functions as an indispensable component of the excitation–contraction coupling, being at the expense of ATP hydrolysis involved in Ca2+/H+ exchange with a high thermodynamic efficiency across the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane. The transporter serves as a prototype of a whole family of cation transporters, the P-type ATPases, which in addition to Ca2+ transporting proteins count Na+, K+-ATPase and H+, K+-, proton- and heavy metal transporting ATPases as prominent members. The ability in recent years to produce and analyze at atomic (2·3–3 Å) resolution 3D-crystals of Ca2+-transport intermediates of SERCA 1a has meant a breakthrough in our understanding of the structural aspects of the transport mechanism. We describe here the detailed construction of the ATPase in terms of one membraneous and three cytosolic domains held together by a central core that mediates coupling between Ca2+-transport and ATP hydrolysis. During turnover, the pump is present in two different conformational states, E1 and E2, with a preference for the binding of Ca2+ and H+, respectively. We discuss how phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms of these conformational states with cytosolic, occluded or luminally exposed cation-binding sites are able to convert the chemical energy derived from ATP hydrolysis into an electrochemical gradient of Ca2+ across the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane. In conjunction with these basic reactions which serve as a structural framework for the transport function of other P-type ATPases as well, we also review the role of the lipid phase and the regulatory and thermodynamic aspects of the transport mechanism.