The city of Aqaba is both rich in its heritage and its history. The ancient city prospered under many eras and witnessed many different dynasties. Formerly in biblical times it was known as Elot, and during the Roman and Islamic eras it was referred to as Aela or Aliana, whereas, the Ancient Greeks had named it Berenice.
The Mamlukes called the city Aqaba in reference to the mountains located west of the city on the road to Egypt, its name today derived from “Aqaba Ayla”, the word Aqaba is referred to any road or path with high edges and steep slopes, which refers to the narrow passageway leading to Wadi Yitm.
The city was rediscovered and excavated in 1989, inscribed in fortified stone walls 165m x 140m, with a thickness of 2.6m. it was surrounded by 24 towers that were positioned around the city in a u-shape. Two main streets ran through the city and met in the middle, dividing it into four sections. Each section had gate, the Northern gate come from Egypt, the Eastern gate was the Damascus gate, Hejaz gate on the south and the western gate led to the sea, making it vital as a trade route and connection between the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Peninsula.
After the Muslim conquest in 636 AD. The Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, established the first Islamic city outside the Arabian Peninsula within Ayla, and this city was referred to as the Door to Palestine. The city served as a station for pilgrims heading towards the Holy cities and Macca. Its location was crucial for the effective spread of Islam throughout the Arab region, Africa, and Europe. Aqaba would further thrive under the Ummayad Dynasty, the Abbasids, and Fatmids.
Ayla prospered during this era. However, several earthquakes and raids caused the city to decline, and it then fell under the crusader`s rule, under the rule of king Baldwin I of Jerusalem, they were able to control the Aqaba Gulf`s coast, in addition to caravan passage from Egypt and Syria. Under the rule of Salah Al-Deen Al Ayoobi, Saladin, the muslins were able to recapture the city. The city was then to be ruled by the Mamlukes, who altered and expanded the City of Ayla.
The fortified Ayla was established and built according to Islamic settlement structures called Msir. It was surrounded by four fortified walls, with a 55mx 35m mosque on the North-East section, the sanctuary of two parallel isles directed, to the kiblah, in the center of the South-Eastern wall as a Mihrab, which was also directed towards the Kilbah. In later years, the mosque was expended, and the market was established South-West, overlooking the sea.
Under the Ottoman rule, Aqaba was left as a fishing and commerce center. The city would decline until the Great Arab Revolt, where is served as a crucial location for the campaign`s success and the ultimate overthrowing of the empire.