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For other meanings, see Aqaba (disambiguation)
Aqaba city, from right to left and from above to below: Shatt Al-Ghandour Gardens, view of Aqaba, diving in Red Sea and Aqaba's skyline
Aqaba city, from right to left and from above to below: Shatt Al-Ghandour Gardens, view of Aqaba, diving in Red Sea and Aqaba's skyline
Official seal of Aqaba
Nickname(s): The Bride of the Red Sea [1]
Map of Aqaba.png
Aqaba is located in Jordan
Coordinates: 29°31′00″N 35°00′00″E / 29.5167°N 35°E / 29.5167; 35
Country  Jordan
Governorate Aqaba Governorate
Founded 4000 BC
Authority 2001
 • Chief Commissioner Hani Mulki
 • Total 375 km2 (145 sq mi)
 • Land 374.25 km2 (144.50 sq mi)
 • Water .75 km2 (0.29 sq mi)
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Population (2014)
 • Total 140,000[2]
 • Density 373/km2 (970/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Aqabawi
Time zone +2 Eastern European Standard Time
 • Summer (DST) +3 Arabia Standard Time (UTC)
Postal code 77110
Area code(s) +(962)3
Website Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority

Aqaba (English pronunciation: /ˈækəbə/;[3] alternatively spelled Akaba; Arabic: العقبة‎), is the only coastal city of Jordan, with an estimated population of 140,000 and a land area of 375 square kilometres (144.8 sq mi).[4] The city's strategic location at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea, has made its port important over the course of thousands of years. As Ancient Aela, the former bishopric remains a Latin Catholic titular see. Today, the port plays a primary role in the kingdom's economy, it also serves several countries in the region.[5]

The city of Aqaba is the capital of Aqaba Governorate, it is also the largest city in the Gulf of Aqaba.[6] 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.[7] It is known today as a liberal Arab city with its warm calm waters that made its marine life boom.[8] It has taken large share of Jordan's mega projects, project like Ayla Oasis, Saraya Aqaba, Marsa Zayed and The Red Sea Astrarium. They are expected to turn the city into a major tourism hub in the region.[9][10] However, industrial and commercial activities remain important, due to the strategic location of the city as the country's only seaport.[11]

Lawrence of Arabia film has boosted Aqaba's popularity, where the Battle of Aqaba took place in the year 1917, attacking forces of the Arab Revolt, led by Auda ibu Tayi and advised by T. E. Lawrence were victorious over the Ottoman defenders.[12] It is the westernmost major city on the Arabian peninsula.


The city was called Ayla in ancient times, it is a Semitic name but its exact origin is disputed. Some say that it is named after God in Aramaic or Hebrew languages, while others argue it is named after the term 'Ayl' which appears in the ancient Mesopotamic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh. Aqaba gained its name during the Mamluk era, which means in Arabic, 'Obstacle' due to the high mountains surrounding the city and the bumpy roads leading to it.[13]


Chalcolithic period[edit]

Tal Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan archaeological site

Aqaba has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC; the Tal Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan site lying 4 km north of the beach is one of the ruins of this prehistoric period. Archaeologists from University of Jordan have discovered the site; they found a building with walls inscribed with human and animal drawings which suggested that the building was used as a religious site. The people who inhabited the site had developed an extensive water system in irrigating their crops which was mostly grapes and wheat, several different-sized clay pots were also found suggesting that copper production was a major industry in the region; the pots were used in melting the copper and reshaping it. Scientific studies performed on site revealed that it had undergone two earthquakes, with the latter one leaving the site completely destroyed.[14]

Iron and Bronze Ages[edit]

Map of historical locations in and around Aqaba

The Edomites are believed to have built the first port in Aqaba, turning it into a major hub for the trade of copper as the Phoenicians helped them develop their maritime economy. They profited from its strategic location at the junction of trading routes between Asia and Africa. Around 735 BC, the city was conquered by the Assyrian empire. Because of the wars the Assyrian empire had in the east, its trading routes were diverted to the city. However, the empire did not last and was soon defeated by the Babylonians in 600 BC. During this time, Aqaba witnessed great economic growth, which is attributed to the business background of its rulers who realized how important Aqaba's location was. The Babylonian rule of the city lasted shorter than that of the Assyrian rule, when the Persian Empire overtook the city in 539 BC.[15]

Hellenistic period[edit]

Roman milestone that marked the starting point of the Via Nova Traiana at display in the Aqaba Archaeological Museum

Aqaba continued to grow and prosper which made it a major trading hub by the time of the Greek rule, it was described by a Greek historian to be 'one of the most important trading cities in the Arab World'.[15] The Ptolemaic Greeks called it Berenice.[16] The Nabatean kingdom had a large population north of the city, the ones who had built Al-Khazneh in the city of Petra, they outnumbered the Greeks which made the capture of the city quite easy.[15] One of the oldest known texts in Arabic alphabet is an inscription found in Jabal Ram 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Aqaba.[17]

Roman and Byzantine rule[edit]

In 64 BC following the Romans conquest of the Levant, they called the city Ayla and Aelana.[16] Aqaba reached its peak during Roman times, the great long distance road the Via Traiana Nova led south from Bostra through Amman, terminating in Aqaba, where it connected with a west road leading to Philistia and Egypt. Around 106 AD Aqaba was one of the main ports for the Romans.[18] It was the home origin of what came to be known as the Ayla-Axum Amphoras. In classical texts the Roman city is known as Aela,[19] and this is the standard form of the Roman name in scholarly studies.[20][21][22][23] By the time of Eusebius, Aela became the garrison of the Legio X Fretensis, which was moved to Aela from Jerusalem.[24][25][26]

Ayla came under Byzantine Empire rule in 300 AD, where the world's very first purpose built church was constructed.[27]

Islamic rule and Crusades[edit]

Soon after the Islamic conquests, Ayla came under the rule of the Islamic Caliphate, and thereafter passed through the hands of such dynasties as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids and Mamluks.[28] The early days of the Islamic era witnessed the construction of the city of Ayla, which the geographer Shams Eddin Muqaddasi described as being nearby the original settlement in ruins.[29]

A fortress called Helim, was built in the 12th century by the Crusaders, which remains relatively well-preserved today. They also built in the small island called Pharaoh's Island now lying in Egyptian territorial waters about 7 kilometres (4 miles) west of Aqaba. Saladin recaptured both Aqaba and the island in 1187.

In 14th century Qansah Al-Ghouri, one of the last Mamluks sultans took over and rebuilt the Aqaba Fortress.

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. For 400 years, it became a simple fishing village of little importance. But the city quickly regained its importance after the Ottomans built the Hejaz railway, connecting the port to Damascus and Medina.[30]

British Mandate period[edit]

See also: Battle of Aqaba
Lawrence of Arabia on a camel in Aqaba in 1917

During World War I, the Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from Aqaba after a raid, known as the Battle of Aqaba, led by T. E. Lawrence (known as Lawrence of Arabia) 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 to Arab and British forces further north in Transjordan and Greater Palestine, and more importantly alleviated a threat of a Turkish offensive against the strategically important Suez Canal.

Aqaba was ceded to the British protectorate of Transjordan in 1925.


King Hussein through an exchange deal with Saudi Arabia gave 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 square miles) of desert-land in Jordanian territories in an attempt to give the south of Aqaba 12 kilometres (7 miles) of prime coastline, the magnificent Yamanieh coral reef was also included.[31] Aqaba was a major site for imports of Iraqi goods in the 1980s until the Persian Gulf War.[32]

Ecclesiastical history[edit]

The site was found by Guinness World Records to be the world's first purpose-built church [27]

The city became a Christian bishopric at an early stage. Its bishop Peter was present at the First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council, in 325. Beryllus was at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and Paul at the synod called by Patriarch Peter of Jerusalem in 536 against Patriarch Anthimus I of Alexandria, a council attended by bishops of the Late Roman provinces of Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and Palaestina Tertia, to the last-named of which Aela belonged.[33][34]

Titular see[edit]

No longer a residential bishopric, Ayla is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular bishopric [35] since the early century, originally as Aila or Ælana , since 1929 as Æla.

It is vacant, having had the following incumbents of the fitting episcopal (lowest) rank except the last, of archiepiscopal (intermediary) rank :


The city lies at Jordan's southernmost point, on the Gulf of Aqaba lying at the tip of the Red Sea. Its strategic location is shown in the fact that it is located at the crossroads of the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa, while bordering Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.[36]


Aqaba has a desert climate with a warm winter and a hot dry summer.

Climate data for Aqaba
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 20.5
Average low °C (°F) 8.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 4.9
Average precipitation days 2.0 1.4 1.5 0.8 0.5 0 0 0 0 0.6 0.9 1.9 9.6
Source: World Meteorological Organization

Demographic s[edit]

The city of Aqaba has one of the highest population growth rates in Jordan in 2011, and only 44% of the buildings in the city had been built before 1990.[37] A special census for Aqaba city was carried by the Jordanian department of statistics in 2007, the total population of Aqaba by the census of 2007 was 98,400. The 2011 population estimate is 136,200.[2] The results of the census compared to the national level are indicated as follows:

Demographic data of the city of Aqaba (2007) compared to Kingdom of Jordan nationwide[37]
Aqaba City (2007) Jordan (2004 census)
1 Total population 98,400 5,350,000
2 Growth rate 4.3% 2.3%
3 Male to Female ratio 56.1 to 43.9 51.5 to 48.5
4 Ratio of Jordanians to Foreign Nationals 82.1 to 17.9 93 to 7
5 Number of households 18,425 946,000
6 Persons per household 4.9 5.3
7 Percent of population below 15 years of age 35.6% 37.3%
8 Percent of population over 65 years of age 1.7% 3.2%


Mosque at Marsa Zayed

ِIslam represents the majority of the population of Aqaba, but its ancient roots in Christianity still exist today. Approximately 5,000 Christian families live in the city.[38] There are several churches in the city and one Christian school called Rosary Sisters School Aqaba.[39][40]

Local Government[edit]

In August 2000, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) was established which acted as the statutory institution empowered with administrative, fiscal, regulatory and economic responsibilities [41]

Administrative Divisions[edit]

Jordan is divided into 12 administrative divisions, each called a Governorate. Aqaba Governorate divides into 3 Nahias, some of which are divided into districts and further divided into neighborhoods. While others are either villages or towns.



The largest museum in Aqaba is the Aqaba Archaeological Museum.


Aqaba has recently experienced a great growth in its nightlife, especially during the dramatic increase of tourist number in the 2000s.


The fact that the city is the only coastal city in Jordan, it has a distinctive cuisine relative to other Jordanian cities. Main dishes include; Sayadeyah is a common dish among Arabs coastal cities, which is a combination of rice, fish and spices. Kishnah is made up of fish, tomatoes and onions cooked together. Bukhari is made up of rice, meat, humus beans, ghee and spices popular with wedding ceremonies. While Aqabawi Desserts include; Al-Hooh which consists of layers of pastry stuffed with nuts or dates. It is then fried in ghee and dipped in sugar syrup. And Dates and ghee which is commonly presented to guests. It is a simple dessert consisting of fresh dates dipped in ghee.[42]


The universities and institutes in Aqaba:

See Also: List of universities in Jordan


View of Aqaba
One of the many resorts in the city
Shatt Al-Ghandour gardens
The Red Sea Summit in Aqaba in 2003.

Benefiting from its location and status as Jordan's special economic zone, Aqaba's economy is based on the tourism and port industry sectors. The economic growth in Aqaba is higher than the average economic growth in the country. Under the special economic zone status some investments and trades are exempted from taxation, as a result, new resorts, housing developments, and retail outlets are being constructed. New projects such as Tala Bay and Saraya al Aqaba are constructed aiming at providing high-end vacation and residential homes to locals and foreigners alike.

Over twenty billion dollars have been invested in Aqaba since 2001 when the Special Economic Zone was established. Along with tourism projects, Aqaba has also attracted global logistic companies such as APM Terminals and Agility to invest in logistics, which boosted the city's status as a transport and logistics hub. There are numerous hotels that reside in Aqaba but new hotels are also under construction.

Aqaba is the only seaport of Jordan so virtually all of Jordan's exports depart from here. Heavy machinery industry is also flourishing in the city with regional assembly plants being located in Aqaba such as the Land Rover Aqaba Assembly Plant. By 2008 the ASEZ had attracted $18bn in committed investments, beating its $6bn target by 2020 by a third and more in less than a decade. The goal was adjusted to bring in another $12bn by 2020, but in 2009 alone, deals worth $14bn were inked.[43] Some projects currently under construction are:

  • "Marsa Zayed" a $10 billion is the largest mega mixed-use development project ever envisioned in both Jordan and the region, promising to become a bustling center of commerce, tourism and living. Marsa Zayed will host a wide array of facilities, including residential neighborhoods, commercial outlets and amenities, entertainment venues, financial and business facilities, and a number of world-class branded hotels. Additionally, the property will feature picturesque marinas and a state-of-the-art cruise ship terminal, complete with first-rate services and facilities. This new cruise ship terminal promises to transform the city into a pivotal tourism destination along the Red Sea. Upon completion, Marsa Zayed will encompass a staggering 6.4 million square meters of built-up property.
  • Saraya Aqaba, a $1.5 billion resort with a man made lagoon, luxury hotels, villas, and townhouses that will be completed by 2017.
  • Ayla Oasis, a $1.5 billion resort around a man made lagoon with luxury hotels, villas, an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, one of the world's "leading golf course designers". It also has an Arabian Venice theme with apartment buildings built along canals only accessible by walkway or boat. This project will be completed by 2017.
  • Tala Bay, Tala Bay was developed in a distinctive architectural style that blends Jordanian and regional architecture into a modern and friendly atmosphere with total cost of US$680 million. Another distinguishing feature of this single community resort is its two-kilometer private sandy beach on the Red Sea, which offers many attractions to residents and visitors with a wide selection of activities for the entire family.
  • The Red Sea Astrarium (TRSA), the world's only Star Trek themed park, worth $1.5 billion will be completed by 2014. The park will span 184 acres (74 ha) will include "technologically advanced attractions, five-star accommodation, captivating theatrical productions," and night-time spectacles. The project will include four hotels and provide 500 job opportunities in the coastal city.[44]
  • Port relocation. Aqaba's current port will be relocated to the southernmost part of the province near the Saudi border. Its capacity will surpass that of the current port. The project costs $5 billion, and it will be completed by 2013.
  • Aqaba will be connected by the national rail system which will be completed by 2013. The rail project will connect Aqaba with all Jordan's main cities and economic centers and several countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria.
  • The Aqaba Container Terminal (ACT) handled a record 587,530 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2008, an increase of 41.6% on the previous year. To accommodate the rise in trade on the back of the increasing popularity of container shipping and the stabilising political situation in Iraq, the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC) has announced plans for a new port. The port relocation 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the south will cost an estimated $600m and will improve infrastructure, while freeing up space for development in the city. Plans for upgrading the King Hussein International Airport (KHIA) and the development of a logistics centre will also help position Aqaba as a regional hub for trade and transport.[43]


View of Tala Bay resort south of Aqaba
Aqaba's coral reefs have made it as one of the best diving spots in the world

Aqaba is well known for its beach resorts and luxury hotels, which service those who come for diving, fun in the sand as well as watersports like windsurfing and Scuba diving. It also offers activities which take advantage of its desert location. Its many coffee shops offer mansaf and knafeh, and baqlawa desserts. Another very popular venue is the Turkish Bath (Hamam) built in 306 AD, in which locals and visitors alike come to relax after a hot day.

A beach in Aqaba.

In 2006, the Tourism Division of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) reported that the number of tourists visiting the Zone in 2006 rose to about 432,000, an increase of 5% over previous year. Approximately 65%, or 293,000 were Jordanians. Of foreign tourists, Europeans visited the Zone in the largest numbers, with about 98,000 visiting during the year. The division has financed tourism advertising and media campaigns with the assistance of the European Union.[45]

During national holidays, Jordanians from the north, particularly Amman and Irbid, flock to Aqaba's luxury resorts and sandy beaches. During these holiday weekends, hotel occupancy reaches 100%.

Aqaba has been chosen for the site of a new waterfront building project that would rebuild Aqaba with new man-made water structures, new high-rise residential and office buildings, and more tourist services to place Aqaba on the investment map and challenge other centers of waterfront development throughout the region.

Aqaba was chosen as the Arab Tourism City of 2011.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]

During the 5 day holiday in both the end of Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha, Jordanian and western expats flock into the city with numbers reaching as many as 50,000. Which rises the occupancy of most hotels there as high as 90% and sometimes becomes fully booked.[54]


Skyline of Aqaba

Residential buildings in Aqaba are made up of 4 stories, of which are covered with sandstone or limestone. The city has no high-rises, however, Marsa Zayed project is planned to dramatically change that reality. Through the construction of several high-rise towers that host hotels, residential units, offices and clinics.


The Aqaba railway system is only used for cargo transportation and no longer functions for travelers, with the exception of the route to Wadi Rum.


King Hussein International Airport is the only civilian airport outside of Amman in the country, located to the north of Aqaba. It is 20-minutes drive away from the city center. Regular flights are scheduled from Amman to Aqaba with an average flying time of 45 minutes which is serviced by Royal Jordanian Airlines and Jordan Aviation Airlines. Also several international airlines connect the city to Sharm el-Sheikh, Istanbul, Dubai, Alexandria and other destinations in Europe.[55]


Aqaba is connected by an 8,000 kilometer modern highway system to surrounding countries. The city is connected to the rest of Jordan by the Desert Highway and the King's Highway that provides access to the resorts and settlements on the Dead Sea.[55] Aqaba is connected to Eilat in Israel by taxi and bus services passing through the Wadi Araba crossing. And to Haql in Saudi Arabia by the Durra Border Crossing. There are many bus services between Aqaba and Amman and the other major cities in Jordan, JETT and Trust International are the most common lines. These tourist buses are spacious and installed with air conditioning and bathrooms.[56]


Regular ferry routes to Taba are available on a daily basis and are operated by several companies such as; Sindbad for Marine Transportation and Arab Bridge Maritime. The routes serve mainly the Egyptian coastal cities on the gulf like Taba and Sharm Al Sheikh.[55]

Twin towns and sister cities[edit]

Aqaba is twinned with:


See also[edit]


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Sources and External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°31′N 35°00′E / 29.517°N 35.000°E / 29.517; 35.000