Aqaba and the Red Sea
Thanks to its position on the Red Sea, this area was always of importance on the early trade routes between the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. The first known settlement in the area was from the Early Bronze Age period (c3500 BC) and in the Iron Age King Solomon’s port of Ezion-Geber was on this stretch of coast.
The City of Aqaba (AYLA)
The Nabataeans established a city at Ayla as a hub for the land and sea trade routes linking Arabia, the Far East, Africa and Europe. When the Romans annexed the Nabataean kingdom in 106 AD, and built the Via Nova Traiana to link Bostra to the sea, Ayla’s importance grew as the base of a Roman legion. In the Christian era, however, by the 6h century AD, during the Christian era the southern frontier was badly neglected. An alliance with the Christian Arab Ghassanid tribe replaced the Roman garrison. In 630, the Bishop of Ayla, Yuhanna bin Ru’ba, went to meet the Prophet Muhammad at Tabuk and surrendered the city to him. Caliph Umar even stayed with the bishop on a visit in 639.
A new Muslim town was built near the shore, surrounded by walls and with a large mosque. Several early Islamic writers wrote of Ayla’s prosperity, both as a port and trading centre, and also as a staging post on the Haij pilgrimage route. Its popularity gained it several mentions in the Arabic folktales of One Thousand and One Nights.
By the time the Crusaders arrived in 1116, Ayla was less prosperous, having been severely damaged by an earthquake and tribal raids. They occupied the town until Salah Ad-Din recaptured it in 1171. The remains of the Crusader castle probably lie hidden beneath the 15h century Mamluk fort a short distance east of the Islamic site.
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