The seaside town of Aqaba is located on the Red Sea, within sight of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Jordan may have only 26 kilometers of coastline, but they are being put to good use, and below the sparkling Red Sea waters are some of the most fantastic dive sites in the world.
This area has been of strategic interest since old times, and evidence of these civilizations is still visible, although visitors may have to tear themselves away from the five star hotels and the beach in order to do so. Aqaba is also popular as a base camp for travelers wanting to see Wadi Rum and Petra.
Near the road to Aqaba's airport is a Chalcolithic site, Tell Maquss. Dating back to 3500 BC, it was during this period that copper was first smelted. The site is full of brick furnaces and slag heaps. Interestingly, the copper was brought from elsewhere, possibly from King Solomon's mines at Ezion Geber, just north of modern Aqaba. There is evidence here of trade with Somalia, Saba (Yemen) and Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Nearby, the ruined Edomite trading town of Tell al-Kheleifeh dates from the 1 st century BC The great trade route from Damascus snaked down through Amman and Petra, stopping at Aqaba before heading off to Palestine and Egypt.
Excavations have uncovered a town showing Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine influences, as each of these civilizations moved through the region between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD. Called Aila, the seaport town linked with the rest of the region through the Via Nova Traiana. A Roman fort was built at Qaa'es Sa'adiyeen, north of present-day Aqaba, and in the 3rd century AD a Roman force, the Legion X Fretensis, was relocated to Alia from Jerusalem. A 3rd century AD building has been found which may be one of the oldest churches in the world.
In the 10th century AD, an Arab geographer named Shams ad-Din Muqaddasi traveled to Ayla, the Islamic town that replaced Aila. He recorded that it was a port, a storehouse and a very prosperous place. The ruins of Ayla were unearthed in the mid-1980s by a joint American-Jordanian team. A fortified wall, with turrets and a huge gateway, surrounded the town, constructed on a traditional axial plan. The Quranic Ayat al-Kursi, or Throne Verse, was inscribed over the gateway arch. The port was known as the "door to Palestine". Guld Of Aqaba 3
Ayla became Aqaba under Mamluk rule and the Mamluk fort was built in the 14 century by Qansah Ghouri, one of the last sultans. The Ottomans did little to exploit Aqaba, and it diminished in importance over 400 years. Taken by force by Lawrence and the Arab forces during the Great Arab Revolt, it became a strategic port, allowing arms shipments and other supplies to come into Jordan from Egypt. The Hashemite coat of arms was added to the Mamluk fort after it was taken.
Today, Aqaba is a vibrant town that invites visitors, both Jordanian and foreign, to enjoy the sun, sand, and fun. With approximately 335 days of sunshine per year and an average water temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, it is almost always a good day to be outdoors. With almost 12 hours of sunshine a day, and visibility often down to 150 meters underwater, it is almost always a good day to be in the water.
The Red Sea is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, offering some of the most colorful sea life anywhere. With over 500 species of coral, including the black archelia, which was first discovered by His Majesty, the late King Hussein, and over 1200 species of fish, Aqaba's 30 dive sites offer opportunities for everyone, from novices to experienced divers, both day and night. The sites range from the Japanese Garden to the wreck of the Lebanese freighter, The Cedar Pride, which sank in 1985. Sea turtles, Iionfish, sea cows and whale sharks are all here, depending on the season. For those unable to dive or snorkel, there are glass-bottomed boat rides available. The Marine Science Center pumps water directly in from the sea, which provides its aquarium with the unique opportunity to grow coral in captivity. The many dive centers offer classes and outings.
When visitors come up out of the water, they have their choice of leading hotels to enjoy, many with swimming pools and private beaches. There are opportunities for adventure on dry land as well, such as wandering around the ruins of Ayla, which was visited by Chinese, Moroccan, Syrian and Egyptian traders. Close to the Mamluk fort is a museum, housed in the former home of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the great-great grandfather of King Abdullah II, that showcases fascinating finds from the area. Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is two hours away and Wadi Rum is only one hour, making travel simple. Aqaba 6
Sun, fun, and history await visitors to Aqaba. Long a crossroads between Africa, Europe, and Asia, today the beach still lures visitors and adventures still start here. Some of the most beautiful sea life in the world swims beneath the waters of the Red Sea, and Aqaba has facilities to help visitors explore this realm, whatever their ability level. With the sun, the beach, the history and all the treats offered at the fine hotels, visitors might never want to leave!
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