Aqaba is Jordan's only seaport and popular as diving and beach resort, located at the Red Sea, framed by rugged mountains. It is a delightful place for holidaymakers, but also rich in history. The town is moreover attractive due to its status as Special Economic Zone offering duty free shopping.
Aqaba's greatest treasure is the Red Sea, you can experience some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world due to the well preserved coral reefs. A glimpse of the sea wonders can be viewed through a glass-bottomed boat. There are plenty of other water-sport activities available, like windsurfing. The whole area is a duty free zone.
Today, a place for relaxation and fun, historical Aqaba has played an important role in the economy of the region. It was a junction for land and sea routes from Asia, Africa and Europe. In biblical times, there were two cities in this area: Eilat and Ezion Geber. The Israelites passed by this area on their wilderness travels, and later Prophet Moses led them near here on their detour around Edom. You can see here the oldest church in the world, Ayla.
During the 12th century, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem controlled the area and built a fortress, which remains are well preserved. In addition to building a stronghold within Aqaba, the Crusaders fortified the small island of Ile de Graye, known today as Pharaoh's Island - about 7 kilometers offshore and today in Egyptian territorial waters.
During World War I, the Ottomans occupied the town and were forced to withdraw from after a raid led by T. E. Lawrence and the Arab forces. The capture of Aqaba helped open supply lines from Egypt up to Arab and British forces further north in Transjordan and Greater 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 coastline to the south of Aqaba.