(Al Aqabah in Arabic) is on the Red Sea, at the northern tip of the
Gulf of Aqaba.
The Gulf of Aqaba separates Saudi Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula. In
width it varies from 12 to 17 miles (19 to 27 km) and is 100 miles (160
km) long. The gulf is bounded by hills on both banks, some rising up to
2,000 feet (600 m). It's narrow entrance at the Straits of Tiran as
well as the many islands, coral reefs and sudden storms make navigation
in the gulf difficult. Part of the East African Rift system, the Gulf
of Aqaba touches Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. The only
natural sheltered harbour along the gulf is at Dhahab, Egypt, but
Jordan and Israel have created the ports of Al Aqabah and Eilat,
respectively, as outlets to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
freshwater springs in the vicinity, this area has been settled for
millennia. In Biblical times, King Solomon's port and foundry of
Ezion-geber lay nearby. Excavations on the Jordan-Israel border 4 km
east of the centre of Aqaba have revealed ancient copper smelters which
are thought to be the site of Ezion-geber.
The modern name Aqaba is derived from the name given it in
Roman times, Aqabat Alia - the Pass of Alia. The pass through the
mountains to the north (now occupied by the highway to Maan) was
improved for traffic as early as the 9th century AD. Under Trajan's
rule (AD 98-117) the town was garrisoned by a Roman legion and was the
southern terminus of the main trade route leading from Damascus through
Amman and Petra, heading toward Egypt and Palestine. Under Byzantine
rule in the early 4th century, it became the seat of a bishopric. After
being conquered in 630/631, it became an important way-station for
Egyptian Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. In the early 12th
century the town was taken by Crusaders, but was returned to Muslim
rule in 1183.
declined under Ottoman rule. By the beginning of the 20th century it
had been an insignificant fishing village for about 500 years. Even its
pilgrimage traffic had disappeared following the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869 and the completion of the Hejaz Railway in 1908.
the outbreak of WWI Aqaba
gained some importance as a strategic fortified Turkish outpost. The
town was bombarded by the British and French navies and in July 1917
the Ottoman forces were forced to retreat from the town when T. E.
Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) led a surprise Arab raid across the
its capture, the town was used by the British as a supply centre for
the push through Transjordan and Palestine. At the end of the war the
status of Aqaba was in dispute. Britain claimed it as an outlet on the
Gulf of Aqaba for its newly created protectorate of Transjordan
(technically part of the Palestine mandate). The Kingdom of Hejaz based
its claim to the town and the region to the north on the former
political subdivisions of the Ottoman Empire. When King Ibn Saud
conquered Hejaz in 1925, the British placed Aqaba and the Maan district
under Transjordanian authority. This situation continued after Jordan
became fully independent in 1946. The border was disputed until an
agreement was signed in 1965. In this agreement, King Hussein traded
with Saudi Arabia, giving 6000 sq km of Jordanian desert for a further
12 km of coastline to allow for the increase in size of the port of
Aqaba. As part of the agreement, the Saudis officially recognised Aqaba
as a part of Jordan.
winter temperatures of around 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), Aqaba is
Jordan's aquatic playground and only seaport.
the beaches are not as accessible as those in Eilat (the resort town
across the border in Israel) the prices tend to be lower here and the
people are much more welcoming. Unlike my memories of Egypt, there are
no crowds of pushy cab drivers demanding "baksheesh", and the merchants
in Aqaba are polite and friendly. The snorkelling may be better at
Sharm El Sheik in Egypt, but Aqaba is home to a number of excellent
hotels and restaurants offering quite reasonable rates for good
quality. It is within easy drive of Petra and Wadi Ram, two of Jordan's
better known attractions.
Mameluk fort, dating from the later period of the Islamic dynasty and
rebuilt in the 16th century, is well worth a visit. While there, don't
forget to stop in at the small but interesting museum.
The museum covers
the known history of southern Jordan and contains a number of artifacts
found at local sites.
Next to the museum is
the Queen Noor handicrafts shop. Items sold in this shop raise money to
improve life in the more isolated villages. The applique cushion cover,
phot right, was purchased in this shop.
harbour has been modernized under an independent Jordan. Deepwater
facilities were opened in 1961. The port's principal export is
Jordanian bulk phosphates. Imports are primarily manufactured goods. Aqaba
is a free port. That means that all goods for sale in Aqaba are tax
free. The numerous gold and jewellery shops in the town
offer excellent value to the European or North American tourist. As in
most resort towns, souvenirs run the gamut from excellent quality to
complete tat, but it's fun to look through the shops and most offer
good value for the price. Remember to haggle for your souvenirs. If you
accept the first price offered the merchant will not only think you are
really dumb, but you will have deprived him (and yourself) of the fun
of the contest. The price of gold won't come down much, but almost
every other souvenir item is fair game in the small shops (not in hotel
gift shops or charity shops though).
Visit the other pages in the Jordan
section. Click the link to go to the page.