Aqaba Tours and Travel Guide
Jordan’s only seaport lies half encircled by mountains at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea. Its position was always strategic – as a hub of the land and sea routes linking Arabia, the Far East, Africa and Europe, and for its subterranean reserves of sweet water. It remains a busy port, and Jordan’s fastest developing town.
The earliest known settlement in the area (Chalcolithic, c. 3500 sc) had furnaces for the smelting of copper from Wadi Araba. But as yet there is no clear location for Solomon’s port of Ezion-geber near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom’ (I Ki. 9:26). It was once identified with Tell al-Khaleifeh, near the Israeli border, but the earliest finds there may be from 200 years later.
The Nabataeans founded the city of Aila within the area of present-day Aqaba, and developed it into an important trade base on the route between the Mediterranean coast and south Arabia, India and China. After the Roman annexation of AD 106 Ada’s role was enhanced as the southern terminus of the new road from Bostra, the Via Nova Traiana.
Later, around 295, the city was fortified and a Roman legion based here. Excavations in recent years have uncovered a very early church of the late 3rd or early 4th century, built of mud brick. Aila’s first bishop, Petros, attended the ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325, and his successors took part in later Councils.
From medieval to modem city
In the years before the Islamic conquest the Ghassanids, a Christian Arab tribe, ruled Aqaba, and in 630 their bishop- Yuhanna ibn Ru’ba – negotiated a peace treaty with the Prophet Mohammad soon after the battle of Tabuk, This ensured good relations with the new Islamic rulers – the Caliph ‘Omar even stayed with the bishop on a visit in 639.
A handful of Christian carvings have been found – but few churches, probably because most of the stones were used to build the walled Islamic city and its large mosques on a new site near the shore. Several early Islamic writers told of Aila’s prosperity both as a port and trading centre, and also as a staging post on the Hajj pilgrimage route.
By the time of the Crusades Aila was less prosperous, due to an earthquake and tribal raids. In 1116 it became part of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem until the Crusaders were ousted at the end of the century. The remains of the Crusader castle here probably lie hidden beneath the 15th-century Mamluk fort near the eastern end of the gulf. Under the Ottomans decline accelerated in 1869, for the new Suez Canal diverted many pilgrims away from the land route via Aqaba. In 1910, when Alois Musil visited, only about 19 families remained. Seven years later Aqaba was taken by an Arab and British force and the fort became a temporary base in the Arab Revolt. It was only in 1925, four years after Transjordan was founded, that Aqaba was detached from the Hijaz and became part of the new domain of Amir ‘Abdullah.