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A Jordanian coastal city situated at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea

Aqaba is the largest city on the Gulf of Aqaba and Jordan’s only coastal city. The city of Aqaba is the capital of Aqaba Governorate.

Aqaba is one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan, and famous for its warm water and rich marine life.

It is best known today as a seaside and diving resort and also as a home for Jordan’s mega projects. However, industrial and commercial activities remain important, due to the strategic location of the city as the country’s only seaport.


Ancient history

Aqaba has been an inhabited settlement since 4000 BC profiting from its strategic location at the junction of trading routes between Asia and Africa. The early settlement was presumably Edomite in ancient times. It was a centre of the Edomites, and then of the Arab Nabataeans, during the first century B.C. who populated the region extensively. The oldest known text in Arabic alphabet is an inscription found in Jabal Ram 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Aqaba.

The Bible refers to the area in (1 Kings 9:26): “King Solomon also built ships in Ezion-Geber, which is near Eloth in Edom, on the shores of the Red Sea.” Eloth (or Elath), which inspired the naming of the present-day Israeli city of Eilat a little further along the coast, 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. 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. 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, and this is the standard form of the Roman name in scholarly studies.

By the time of Eusebius, Aela became the garrison of the Legio X Fretensis, which was moved to Aela from Jerusalem.

Aela 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 Roman provinces of Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and Palaestina Tertia, to the last-named of which Aela belonged. No longer a residential bishopric, Aela is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.

Soon after the Islamic conquests, Aela came under the rule of the Islamic 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 close by. 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.

Some stories in the famous Arabian Nights also refer to Sinbad adventures to take the sea from this port city of Ayla.

During the 12th century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem controlled 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, near the shore of Sinai), now lies in Egyptian territorial waters about 7 kilometres (4 miles) west of Aqaba.

By 1187, both Aqaba and the island had been recaptured, for Muslim rule, 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 Turkish/Ottoman Empire. During the following period, the city declined in status, for 400 years remaining a simple fishing village of little significance. The port of Aqaba quickly regained its importance after the Ottomans built the Hejaz railway, that connects the port to Damascus and Medina.

Modern history

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.

In 1965, King Hussein attempted to give Aqaba room to grow by trading land with Saudi Arabia. In return for 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 square miles) of desertland in Jordan’s interior, the Saudis traded 12 kilometres (7 miles) 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.

In August 2000, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority Law was passed by the Jordanian Parliament. The law established the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) as the statutory institution empowered with regulatory, administrative, fiscal and economic responsibilities within the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ).


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. 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
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%


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)



























Average low °C (°F)



























Precipitation mm (inches)



























Avg. 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


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 306AD, in which locals and visitors alike come to relax after a hot day. Aqaba and Wadi Rum are the sites of the annual Jordan – Middle East Distant Heat Festival, an annual electronic dance festival. It takes place on 31 July and 1 August. DJs from Jordan, the Middle East and around the world participate in this unique dance festival. Some famous artists who participate in the festival are Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, Above & Beyond, and Josh Gabriel.

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.

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.

The Distant Festival held at Aqaba on the last Thursday of July and the following day at Aqaba and Wadi Rum which features the world’s most famous trance and electronica dancers.

Aqaba was chosen as the Arab Tourism City of 2011.


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. 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.
  • 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.

Объекты на карте

  • Type cities
  • Founded: 3989 B.C.
  • Population: 140,000(2014)
  • Phone Code: +(962)3
  • Time: UTC+3


{{ |lang1=en|wiki1=wikipedia|article1=Aqaba |gallery1=العقبة |ncats=1 }}
Map of historical locations in and around Aqaba
Roman milestone that marked the starting point of the Via Nova Traiana (now in the Aqaba Archaeological Museum)
The Eastern Gate (Egypt Gate) of the ruins of Aela

Useful Information

Arabic: العقبة
Translate: al-ʻAqabah 
Lit:"the steep path/ascent"


By land

The city is connected to the rest of Jordan by the Desert Highway and the King's Highway. Aqaba is connected to Eilat, Israel by the Wadi Araba crossing and to Haql, 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 buses use the Desert Highway. Taxi services are also available between Aqaba and Eilat.

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

By sea

The Arab Bridge Maritime company vessels connect Aqaba to the Egyptian ports of Taba and Nuweiba. More than one million passengers travelled between Aqaba and the ports of Nuweiba and Sharm el-Sheikh by ferries. An Abu Dhabi consortium of companies called 'Al Maabar' has won the bid to relocate and manage the Aqaba Port for 30 years and expand the existing ferry terminal which receives about 1.3 million passengers and thousands of trucks and cars coming from across the shore in Egypt.

By air

On 3 April 2013, Turkish Airlines started operations to Aqaba King Hussein International Airport 3 times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; being the only airline having international scheduled flights to Aqaba. King Hussein International Airport connects Aqaba to Amman, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dubai and Alexandria and several destinations in Europe. It is the headquarters of the Jordan Aviation Airlines.


The universities and institutes in Aqaba are mostly scheduled to start their first academic semesters in the years 2011–2012:

  • University of Jordan Aqaba Branch (2009)
  • Aqaba University of Technology (2015/2016)
  • Aqaba University College (AUC) - Al-Balqa Applied University