Aqaba (العقبة, Al-ʻAqabah) is a coastal town in the far south of Jordan. It is the capital of Aqaba Governorate. Aqaba is strategically important to Jordan as it is the country's only seaport. The town borders Eilat, Israel, and there is a border post where it is possible to cross between the two countries (see Wadi Araba Crossing). Both Aqaba and Eilat are at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The town is best known today as a diving and beach resort. However, industrial activity remains important to the area, and the town is an exporter of phosphate and some shells. The town is also an important administrative center within the far south of Jordan.
The Bible refers to the area in (1 Kings 9:26) "King Solomon also built ships in Ezion-Geber, which is near Elath in Edom, on the shores of the Red Sea." This verse 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. During Roman times, the great long distance road the Via Traiana Nova led south from Damascus through Amman, terminating in Aqaba, where it connected with a west road leading to Palestine and Egypt.
Soon after Muhammad's time, it became part of the new 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.
During the 12th century, the Crusaders occupied 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 - about 7 kilometers offshore). The island now lies in Egyptian territorial waters.
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. Under the Ottomans, the city declined in status, for 400 years remaining a simple fishing village of little significance.
During World War I, the occupying Ottoman forces were forced to withdraw from the town after a raid led by T. E. Lawrence 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 up to Arab and British forces afield further north in Transjordan and Palestine, and more importantly alleviated a threat of a Turkish offensive onto the strategically important Suez Canal.
In 1965, King Hussein attempted to give Aqaba room to grow by trading land with Saudi Arabia. In return for 6000 square kilometers of desertland in Jordan's interior, the Saudis traded 12 kilometers 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.
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).
On August 20, 2005, an early-morning rocket attack nearly struck a U.S. Navy ship docked there causing damage to nearby facilities in the city; the attack also hit the nearby Israeli town of Eilat. Al-Qaeda, or an affiliate, claimed responsibility
Aqaba is well known for its beach resorts and luxury hotels, which service those who come for 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), in which locals and visitors alike come to relax after a hot day.
In 2006, the Tourism Division of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) which runs the city held a public awareness campaign to encourage Jordanians to visit the city as tourists. The campaign consisted mainly of writing articles printed in the local media to encourage people from all over Jordan to visit the city. At of the end of the campaign ASEZA officials praised it, and said many locals came to Aqaba that year, something that will no doubt continue in the following year.
Today, the campaign has gone international to different countries of Europe. The aim is to encourage those from as far as Sweden and Norway to Spain, UK, Poland and Italy to come to Aqaba. Its already bearing fruit.
Aqaba has been chosen for the sight 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's economy is skyrocketing because of the economic zone. New resorts are being constructed, but most are still on its leveling stage. New projects like Tala Bay and Saraya al Aqaba are well under construction which will provide high-end vacation and residential homes to locals and foreigners alike.
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.
Over ten billion dollars worth of investment is pouring into Aqaba by Gulf and European investors which shadows Eilat, the prosperous Israeli Red Sea resort only several miles away.
Bus services are plentiful between Amman and Aqaba. JETT and Trust International are the most common lines. These buses use the Desert Highway, which features particularly beautiful scenery in the Wadi Rum region and in the descent into Aqaba.
An Abu Dhabi consortium 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.