Aqaba is Jordan's only Red Sea resort and port city which is warm, sunny, inviting, and has a dazzling undersea world of some of the most spectacular coral reefs to be found anywhere else, located 332 km (206 miles) south of Amman.
When fantasy, sun and sea meet the charms and atmosphere of antiquity, the visitor can find himself, at any time of the year, at the 13th century Red Sea resort of Aqaba, which was in ancient times, the main port for shipments from the Red Sea to the Far East, known by the names of Aila, Ailana, Elana, Ailath, Elath, Ayla and Wayla.
For relaxation, water sports, and winter warmth, Aqaba is warm, sunny and inviting, fringed with palm trees, lapped by the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba, cooled by a steady northerly breeze, and ringed by mountains that change in color with the change of the hours. Snorkeling, water skiing, wind surfing, para-sailing, fishing and a variety of other water sports, including unsurpassed scuba diving are just some of the popular activities to partake in.
It is the secrets these waters hold that makes Aqaba unique, for further down the coast are a dazzling undersea world of some of the most spectacular coral reefs to be found anywhere else. Often over many hundreds of meters wide, the reef is made up of many delicately hued corals among which live a myriad of brilliantly colored fish.
For history enthusiast are sites reflecting human habitation for at least 5500 years, resulting from Aqaba's strategic location at the junction of land and sea routes from Asia, Africa and Europe.
Of special interest among the ancient and medieval archaeological sites are the early Islamic city called Ayla, the Aqaba Fort, built by the Mamluk Sultan Qansweh El-Ghuri at the beginning of the 16th century, which was originally a Crusader Castle, and a very fine museum at the historical residence of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, great grandfather of King Abdullah II, containing a collection of artifacts collected in the region, including fragments of lusterware from Samaria, Chinese ceramics, Umayyad Islamic archaeological finds, and pottery and coins.
Other places of interest are the site of the oldest church in the world, the Aquarium and several diving centers across the shore line.
Whatever the visitor's interest, a wide range of hotels provide excellent accommodations, facilities for all water sports, and restaurants that cater to the most selective tastes. A stroll around the modern town will reveal the presence of some excellent fish restaurants and craftsmen are to be found at work filling small bottles with colored sand in intricate geometric designs.
The World's Oldest Church
In one of the most exciting discoveries in recent times, archaeologists in Aqaba have unearthed what they believe to be the World's oldest-known purpose-built Christian church, from the late 3rd century AD, dated between 293 and 303.
It is slightly older than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both of which date back to the 4th century. The church is found on a plot of land east of Istiklal Street and is now backfilled with earth for protection.
The building had the shape of a large 3-aisled basilica, with a narthex, and oriented on an east-west axis. It measured 26 m (85 feet) by 16 m (53 feet), and was built of mud-brick over stone foundations, with probably vaulted nave and aisles, and arched doorways. Remains of a staircase suggest that it had a second storey. The nave ended in a chancel area followed by a rectangular apse.