Information about Aqaba

Location: Jordan

Aqaba is a coastal town in the far south of Jordan. It is the capital of Aqaba Governorate. Aqaba is strategically important to Jordan as it is the country's only seaport. The town borders Eilat, Israel, and there is a border post where it is possible to cross between the two countries (see Wadi Araba Crossing). Both Aqaba and Eilat are at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.

The town is best known today as a diving and beach resort. However, industrial activity remains important to the area, and the town is an exporter of phosphate and some shells. The town is also an important administrative center within the far south of Jordan.


Aqaba has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC profiting from its strategic location at the junction of trading routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe. The early settlement was presumably Edomite in ancient times. It was a center of the Edomites, and then of the Arab Nabataeans, who populated the region extensively.

The Bible refers to the area in (1 Kings 9:26) "King Solomon also built ships in Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shores of the Red Sea." This verse probably refers to an Iron Age port city on the same ground as modern Aqaba.

The Ptolemaic Greeks called it Berenice, and the Romans Aila and Aelana. During Roman times, the great long distance road the Via Traiana Nova led south from Damascus through Amman, terminating in Aqaba, where it connected with a west road leading to Philistia and Egypt.

Soon after the Islamic conquests, it came under the rule of the Islamic Caliphate, and thereafter passed through the hands of such dynasties as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids and Mamluks. The early days of the Islamic era saw the construction of the city of Ayla (fr), which was described by the geographer Shams Eddin Muqaddasi as being next to the true settlement, which was lying in ruins close by. The ruins of Ayla (unearthed in the 1980s by an American-Jordanian archeological team) are a few minutes walk north along the main waterfront road.

Some stories in the famous Arabian Nights also refer to Sinbad adventures to take the sea from this port city of Ayla.
During the 12th century, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem controlled the area and built their fortress of Helim, which remains relatively well-preserved today. In addition to building a stronghold within Aqaba, the Crusaders fortified the small island of Ile de Graye (now known as Pharaoh's Island, near the shore of Sinai), now lies in Egyptian territorial waters about 7 kilometers west of Aqaba.

By 1187, both Aqaba and the island had been recaptured, for Muslim rule, by Saladin. The Mamluks took over in 1250 and rebuilt the fort in the 14th century under one of the last Mamluk sultans, Qansah al-Ghouri.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Mamluk dynasty had fallen into decline and the area came under the influence of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire. During the following period, the city declined in status, for 400 years remaining a simple fishing village of little significance.
During World War I, the occupying Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid, known as the Battle of Aqaba, led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein in 1917, making the territory part of the Kingdom of Hejaz, under the rule of Prince Faisal. The capture of Aqaba helped open supply lines from Egypt up to Arab and British forces afield further north in Transjordan and Greater Palestine, and more importantly alleviated a threat of a Turkish offensive onto the strategically important Suez Canal.

Aqaba was ceded to the British protectorate of Transjordan in 1925.
In 1965, King Hussein attempted to give Aqaba room to grow by trading land with Saudi Arabia. In return for 6000 square kilometers of desertland in Jordan's interior, the Saudis traded 12 kilometers of prime coastline to the south of Aqaba. In addition to the extra land for expansion of the port, the swap also gave the country access to the magnificent Yamanieh coral reef.

Aqaba was a major site for imports of Iraqi goods in the 1980s until the Persian Gulf War.
In August 2000, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority Law was passed by the Jordanian Parliament. The law established the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) as the statutory institution empowered with regulatory, administrative, fiscal and economic responsibilities within the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ).

On August 20, 2005, an early-morning rocket attack nearly struck a U.S. Navy ship docked there causing damage to nearby facilities in the city; the attack hit the neighboring Israeli port-town of Eilat. Al-Qaeda, or an affiliate, claimed responsibility.
On April 22, 2010, in another early-morning attack, a Russian-designed Grad that was fired from somewhere outside Jordan damaged a refrigerated warehouse on Aqaba's northern outskirts. No deaths or injuries were reported.