Aqaba: Treasure of the Red Sea

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AMMAN — Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan, combines cultural and recreational tourism, and a stopover for a trip to Jordan and Egypt.
اضافة اعلان
Visitors in Aqaba could enjoy archaeological sightseeing and take boat trips that include scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, and among other sea activities.
This Red Sea gem, located 350km south of Amman, is one of the three sites that make up the Golden Triangle, Jordan’s most popular tourist destinations. The other two are Wadi Rum and Petra.

Aqaba is the southern gateway to Jordan, which is much closer to Wadi Rum and Petra than Amman. This encourages many visitors to fly to Jordan through King Hussein Airport, located in Aqaba.

The Gulf of Aqaba is one of the most popular sites for scuba diving and other seaports. It is known for its coral-rich reefs and good weather that spans most of the year.

Historically, inhabitation in Aqaba dates back to 4,000BC, and the city is home to a number of archaeological sites.

In the bible, Aqaba was referred to six times as the seaport of Azion Geber, the first being in the Book of Numbers. It was where the Israelites camped after the Exodus.

The location of this ancient city between Asia and Africa has made it a global hub since the chalcolithic age.

According to historians, the first people who built a seaport at the Gulf of Aqaba were the Edomites, a kingdom that ruled the south of Jordan in 1500 BC, to trade copper mined in the southern Jordanian mountains.
The Phoenicians, who were known for their maritime experience, helped them build the port.

The Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians occupied Aqaba upon learning the importance of its location.

During the Greek era, Aqaba was described as one of the most important ports in the Middle East and was renamed into Berenice.

For the Romans, Aqaba and Petra were annexed to the empire in 106AD. They changed its name from Aqaba into Ayla.

Under Roman rule, Aqaba became the southernmost point on the well-known ancient trade route Via Triana Nova (the new road of Trajan), which was a renovation of the Kings highway.

This trade route was a major part of the ancient world’s trade network, providing access to some of the most essential spices (such as frankincense, which was brought from Yemen through the Arabian Peninsula to Aqaba).  

Formerly a byzantine city, Aqaba is home to what is believed to be the oldest purpose-built Christian church dating back to 293AD.

As Christian bishopric, Aqaba’s Bishop Peter attended the council of Nicaea in 324AD, which was held on Christian doctrines and administration in modern day Turkey.

Many other bishops from Aqaba were mentioned to have participated in other meetings held across the Byzantine Empire.

Under Muslim rule in 650AD, a new city was built in Aqaba and designed with a grid of thoroughfares intersecting on a right angle with a tetrapylon (4 arches that share one roof to mark a crossroad).

In addition to being a hub for trade, Aqaba served as a caravan station for pilgrims traveling from the Levant to Mecca.

Aqaba also flourished from 650 until 1116AD, under the Umayyad, Abbasid, and the Fatimid dynasties.

In 1116AD, King Baldwin I took Aqaba and rebuilt its fortress along Pharaohs Island, 7km west of Aqaba, which falls in the Egyptian territorial waters.

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During the Great Arab Revolt in 1917, Aqaba witnessed the defeat of the ottoman forces by the Arab forces, led by Sharif Nasser, Auda Abu Tayih, and Lawrence of Arabia.

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The battle of Aqaba was a key victory, allowing supplies to flow easily from Egypt to the Arab forces.

This port city was annexed to Jordan in 1925, along with Maan, after being part of the Hijaz Kingdom. Its coastline was increased to 24km as part of a deal between Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

In 2001, Aqaba was turned into a special economic zone under an autonomous institution to create a regional trade and tourism hub.

In modern day Aqaba, the main landmark is its fortress, which is thought have first been built by the Greeks.

The fortress was mainly built by the Mamluks, a Muslim dynasty that ruled from Cairo, as the main gate still carries an inscription that mentions the name of the last Mamluk, Sultan Qanswah El-Ghawri.

Yet, this castle is best known for its role during the Great Arab Revolt which expelled the Ottomans from the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant.

In the film Lawrence of Arabia, Arab fighters attack the fortress and defeat the Ottomans, opening the way for supplies to flow safely from Egypt.

Next to the fortress is the Aqaba Archaeological Museum, which was built 1917 as the palace of Sharif Hussein, the founder of the Hashemite dynasty.
The museum showcases artifacts found during archaeological excavations that were conducted across the governorate of Aqaba, including artifacts from the Bronze Age.

In front of the museum is Aqaba’s well-known Arab Revolt Flagpole, which is considered one of the tallest in the world.

The pole carries the flag of the Great Arab Revolt, usually confused with the Jordanian flag for the similarity of its colors.

Other attractions include Aqaba Bird Observatory, an artificial wetland created for bird migration between Asia, Europe, and Africa, and Aqaba Aquarium, a place where visitors can be introduced to fish and corals in the Gulf of Aqaba.