Aqaba’s long history dates back to pre-biblical times, when it was known as Ayla. According to the Bible’s Old Testament, King Solomon built a naval base at Ezion Geber, just 3km from where the modern town of Aqaba stands today.
From 106 AD, the Romans, who ruled the region from their base in Syria, also used Ayla as their trading sea port, until it came under the control of the Byzantine Empire in the early 4th century. The Byzantines appointed Christian Arabs from south Arabia to rule the port city on their behalf.
The Middle Ages were turbulent years for Ayla. In the 12th century, the crusaders captured the city. They built a fort on Far’un Island, known then as Ile de Graye, 7km offshore. Ayla was then retaken by Saladin and the fort became known as Saladin’s Castle. In a counter-attack, the notorious crusader, Reynald de Chatillon, took the island, but lost it again to Muslim forces the following year.
When the Mameluk Sultans of Egypt took control of the region, they renamed the city Aqaba and, in the 14th century, built the town’s famous Mameluk fort. The Mameluks were followed by the Ottomans, who ruled Aqaba for 4 centuries.
Aqaba was taken from the Ottomans in 1917 by Arab forces together with T. E. Lawrence. At the end of World War I, the British secured Aqaba for Jordan.
Step into Aqaba Castle
An inscription in Arabic at the entrance gate tells us Aqaba’s Mamluk (Mameluke) fort (now known as Aqaba castle) was built during the reign of Qansur Al-Ghuri (Qansuh al-Ghauri) (1510-17). Since then, it has had a Chequered history. Periods of enlargement and renovation have been mixed with serious destruction. The fort has served as a caravanserai for pilgrims travelling to Mecca as much as a military site.
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