Jordan's only seaport,Aqaba,lies half encircled by mountains at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba,an arm of the Red Sea.The earliest settlement so far discovered here dates to about 3500BC and includes smelting furnaces for the copper mined in Wadi Arabah.It was part of Edom at the time of the Exodus,and the towns of Elath/Eloth and Ezion-Geber are mentioned in the Bible.The Edomites also smelted copper here;and King Solomon later built a fleet at Ezion Geber to export copper to Ophir.

It continued as a flourishing port and trading centre,and was controlled successively by the Nabataeans,the Potlemies(who called it Berenice)and the Romans who established a military base here at the end of Trajan's great paved road from Damascus.They called it Ailana.

Under the Byzantine it became the seat of bishopric,and in 630 Bishop Yuhanna ibn u'ba made a peace treaty with the Prophet Muhammad on behalf of the people of Aqaba.Under the Arabs the city was known as Ayla.The Crusaders,under Baldwin I of Jerusalem,captured Ayla in 1116.Later it was taken by Salah al-Din,regained by Renaud de Chatillon,lord of Kerak, before being finally won back by the Arabs.It was during the thirteenth century that its name became Aqaba.

To the south of the modern town of Aqaba,near the shore,stands a medieval fortress whose original may have been built by the Crusaders,but all inscriptions are in Arabic and record building work around 1320 and 1505.Thereafter its main use was as a fortified caravansery for Egyptian pilgrims en route to Mecca.

Under the Ottomans Aqaba dwindled into a poor place,attached to the province of the Hejaz,and its significance was further eroded when the Suez Canal was completed in 1869,and shipping took over the pilgrim trade.It was inhabited by nineteen families,the majority of the inhabitants are the descendants of Egyptian soldiers and pilgrims who fell ill at al-Akaba, were cured,and married there.

In 1917 the capture of Aqaba was a turning point in the Arab Revolt,and it became for a time the headquarters of Emir Feisal. The Hashemite coat of arms above the entrance to the fort dates from this time.Only in 1925,four years after the establishment of the Emirate of Transjordan,was Aqaba officially detached from the Hejaz and incorporated into Transjordan.

Aqaba is today Jordan's fastest growing city.As the only port,it has been greatly developed for import and export by sea.The major export is that of phosphates.Besides this,Aqaba is being developed as a tourist resort,particularly agreeable in autumn, winter and spring,offering not only water sports,but also snorkeling and scuba diving to see the beautiful coral reefs with their colorful plants and fish.
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