Aqaba is the only coastal city in Jordan and the largest and most populous city on the gulf of Aqaba. Situated in southernmost Jordan, Aqaba is the administrative centre of the Ababa Governorate. The city has a population of 188,160 and a land area of 375 square kilometers., Aqaba plays a major role in the development of the Jordanian, through the vibrant trade and tourism sectors. The Port of Aqaba also serves other countries in the region.
Aqaba's location next to Wadi Rum and Petra, has placed it in Jordan's golden triangle of tourism, which strengthened the city's location on the world map and made it one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan.
One of Jordan’s main priorities is to ensure the local people benefit from the country’s burgeoning tourist industry. With this in mind, they are encouraged to produce ecologically-friendly traditional items that are attractive to visitors.
As with all major tourist sites in Jordan, Aqaba not only offers a great selection of hand-crafted souvenirs, such as the traditional Bedouin jewellery, sand bottles, etc., but also excellent modern and traditional jewellery in gold and silver, at exceptionally good prices.
Aqaba's long history dates back to pre-biblical times, when it was known as Ayla. According to the Bible's Old Testament, King Solomon built a naval base at Ezion Geber, just 3km from where the modern town of Aqaba stands today.
From 106 AD, the Romans, who ruled the region from their base in Syria, also used Ayla as their trading sea port, until it came under the control of the Byzantine Empire in the early 4th century. The Byzantines appointed Christian Arabs from south Arabia to rule the port city on their behalf.
The Middle Ages were turbulent years for Ayla. In the 12th century, the crusaders captured the city. They built a fort on Far'un Island, known then as Ile de Graye, 7km offshore. Ayla was then retaken by Saladin and the fort became known as Saladin's Castle. In a counter-attack, the notorious crusader, Reynald de Chatillon, took the island, but lost it again to Muslim forces the following year.
When the Mameluk Sultans of Egypt took control of the region, they renamed the city Aqaba and, in the 14th century, built the town's famous Mameluk fort. The Mameluks were followed by the Ottomans, who ruled Aqaba for 4 centuries.
Aqaba was taken from the Ottomans in 1917 by Arab forces together with T. E. Lawrence. At the end of World War I, the British secured Aqaba for Jordan.
The Aqaba Archaeological Museum
The Aqaba Region Archaeological Museum is located in the Aqaba house of Sherif Hussein Bin Ali next to the Aqaba Castle.
The museum was opened to the public in 1990. Presently it houses an important collection from the Islamic site of Ayla, dated to the Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid periods, thus representing the Islamic periods from the mid-7th to the beginning of the 12th century AD.
Among the exhibits is a Kufic inscription of "Ayat Al-Kursi" from the Holy Qur'an, which surmounted the eastern (Egypt) gate of the city, and a hoard of gold Fatimied dinars minted at Sajilmasa in Morocco.
Aqaba is presently Jordan's only seaport. Its significant position on the eastern tip of the Red Sea is important for marine and overland trade routes between Syria and the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to its being an import station on Hajj route. Finds from the Ayla excavations originating in the Hijaz, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco and even as far a field as China testify to its vitality as a seaport.