For other uses, see Al Aqabah (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

Nickname(s): The Bride of the Red Sea
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)
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Population (2014)
  Total 188,160
  Density 502/km2 (1,300/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/;[1] Arabic: العقبة) is the only coastal city in Jordan and the largest and most populous city on the Gulf of Aqaba.[2] Situated in southernmost Jordan, Aqaba is the administrative centre of the Aqaba Governorate.[3] The city has a population of 188,160 and a land area of 375 square kilometres (144.8 sq mi).[4] Today, Aqaba plays a major role in the development of the Jordanian economy, through the vibrant trade and tourism sectors. The Port of Aqaba also serves other countries in the region.[5]

Aqaba's strategic location at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea between the continents of Asia and Africa, has made its port important over the course of thousands of years.[5] The ancient city was called Ayla, its strategic location and proximity to copper mines, made it a regional hub for copper production and trade in the Chalcolithic period.[6] Ayla became a bishopric under Byzantine rule and later became a Latin Catholic titular see after Islamic conquest around 600 AD, when Ayla became known as Aqaba.[7] The Great Arab Revolt's Battle of Aqaba, depicted in the film Lawrence of Arabia,[8] resulted in victory for Arab forces over the Ottoman defenders.[9]

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.[10] The city is administered by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, which has turned Aqaba into a low-tax, duty-free city, attracting several mega projects like Ayla Oasis, Saraya Aqaba, Marsa Zayed and expansion of the Port of Aqaba.[11] They are expected to turn the city into a major tourism hub in the region.[12] However, industrial and commercial activities remain important, due to the strategic location of the city as the country's only seaport.[13]


The city was called Ayla in ancient times, which is a Semitic name written in historical sources in several different ways; Aila, Ailana, Elana, Haila, Ailath, Elath and Wayla.[14] The exact origin of name is disputed, some argue that it comes from the Hebrew root Ayl which is also the root for the word Elah, meaning Pistacia tree.[15] While others argue it is named after the term Ayl that appears in the ancient Mesopotamic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh. Aqaba gained its name during the Mamluk era, which means 'Obstacle' in Arabic, due to the high mountains surrounding the city and the bumpy roads leading to it.[1]


Ancient period

Tall Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan archaeological site

Excavations at Tall Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan and Tall Al-Magass in Aqaba revealed that the city has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC, with a thriving copper production on a large scale.[16] This period is largely unknown due to the absence of written historical sources.[6] Archaeologists from University of Jordan have discovered the sites, where they found a small building whose walls were inscribed with human and animal drawings, suggesting 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.[17]

The Edomites who ruled over Edom just south of the Dead Sea, are believed to have built the first port in Aqaba called Elath around 1500 BC, 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, where the port witnessed relative prosperity. Because of the wars the Assyrian empire had in the east, its trading routes were diverted to the city. The Babylonians conquered it 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 the city's location was. The Persian Empire took the city in 539 BC.[18]

Classical period

Roman milestone that marked the starting point of the Via Nova Traiana on display in the Aqaba Archaeological Museum.
Aqaba Church, considered to be the world's first purpose-built church.[19]

Aqaba continued to grow and prosper which made it a major trading hub by the time of the Greek rule in 333 BC, it was described by a Greek historian to be "one of the most important trading cities in the Arab World".[18] The Ptolemaic Greeks called it Berenice.[20] 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 easy.[18] One of the oldest known texts in Arabic alphabet is an inscription found in Jabal Ram 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Aqaba.[21]

In 64 BC following the Roman conquest of the Levant, they annexed the city and called it Ayla and Aelana.[20] Both Petra and Ayla were under Nabatean influence, but despite the Roman rule, the Nabateans continued to prosper. Ayla reached its peak during Roman times, the great long distance road the Via Traiana Nova led south from Bostra through Amman, terminating in Ayla, 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.[22] 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 Ayla,[23] and this is the standard form of the Roman name in scholarly studies.[24][25][26][27] By the time of Eusebius, Ayla became the garrison of the Legio X Fretensis, which was moved to Ayla from Jerusalem.[28][29][30]

Ayla came under Byzantine Empire rule in 300 AD, where the Aqaba Church was constructed, considered to be the world's very first purpose built church was constructed.[19] 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 Ayla belonged.[31][32]

Islamic rule and Crusades

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.[7] 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.[33]

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.[34]

Modern era

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 in 1917 after the Battle of Aqaba, led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces of Auda abu Tayi and Sherif Nasir. The capture of Aqaba allowed the British to supply the Arab forces.[9]

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.[35] Aqaba was a major site for imports of Iraqi goods in the 1980s until the Persian Gulf War.[36]


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.[37]


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) 9.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 4.5
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: Jordan Meteorological Department

Local government

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 [38]

Administrative divisions

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.[3]


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.[2][5] 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.

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.[10] The city is administered by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, which has turned Aqaba into a low-tax, duty-free city, attracting several mega projects like Ayla Oasis, Saraya Aqaba, Marsa Zayed and expansion of the Port of Aqaba.[11] They are expected to turn the city into a major tourism hub in the region.[12] However, industrial and commercial activities remain important, due to the strategic location of the city as the country's only seaport.[13]

Over US$20 billion 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.[39] Some projects currently under construction are:


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 has a number of luxury hotels, including in the Tala Bay resort 20 km further to the south, which service those who come for fun on the beaches as well as 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.[41]

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.[42][43][44][45]

During the 5 day holiday at both the end of Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha, Jordanian and western expats flock into the city with numbers reaching up to 50,000 visitors. During this time the occupancy rate of most hotels there reaches as high as 90%, and are often fully booked.[46]


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.[47] 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. 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[47]
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.[48] There are several churches in the city and one Christian school called Rosary Sisters School Aqaba.[49][50]


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 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.[51]


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.[52]


Taxis in Aqaba

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.[52] 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.[53]


The Port of Aqaba is the only port in Jordan.

The Port of Aqaba is the only port in Jordan. 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.[52] In 2006, the port was ranked as being the "Best Container Terminal" in the Middle East by Lloyd's List. The port was chosen due to it being a transit cargo for other neighboring countries, its location between four countries and three continents, being an exclusive gateway for the local market and for the improvements it has recently witnessed.[54]


The universities and institutes in Aqaba:

See Also: List of universities in Jordan

Twin towns and sister cities

Aqaba is twinned with:


See also


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External links

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

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