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Aqaba (Arabic: العقبة al-ʻAqabah) is a coastal town with a population of 101,290 (2000) and 2% of Jordan's population in the far south of Jordan (29.5167° N 35.0° E). 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. Both Aqaba and Eilat are at the head (inside) of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Aqaba in Jordan
Aqaba in Jordan

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 centre within the far south of Jordan.


Aqaba has been inhabited settlement since 4000 BC profiting from its strategic location at the junction of trading routes between Asia, Africa, Europe. The early settlement was known as Elath (אֵילַת ʼÊlaṯ) in Biblical Hebrew (and presumably Edomite) in ancient times. It was a centre 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 Nova Traiana led south from Damascus through Amman, terminating in Aqaba, where it connected with a west road leading to Palestine and Egypt.

Soon after Muhammad's time, it became part of the new 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, which was described by the geographer Shams Eddin Muqaddasi as being next to the true settlement, which was lying in ruins closeby. 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.

During the 12th century the Crusaders occupied 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 - about 7 kilometers offshore). The island now lies in Egyptian territorial waters.

By 1170, both Aqaba and the island had been recaptured 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 Ottoman Empire. Under the Ottomans, the city declined in status, for 400 years remaining a simple fishing village of little significance.

During World War I, Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid by Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab forces of Sharif Hussein in 1917, making the territory part of the of the Kingdom of Hijaz. The capture of Aqaba helped open supply lines from Egypt up to Arab and British forces afield further north in Transjordan and Palestine.

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 Saudi's 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.

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 also hit the nearby Israeli town of Eilat. Al-Qaeda or an affiliate has claimed responsibility.

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