Ayla Kingdom of Coral and Beaches
of the Sun
Hind Abu shaar
Ayla summarizes the historical eras which links geography with human geniusness. Head of Gulf overlooking the Red Sea coast, linking the civilization triangle (the Levant, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula) together and caught on the neck of the red sea, summarizing its history of human inter-connection through ages.
Through this triangle, roots of urbanism, knowledge and beacons of religion passed through, where groups, nations and civilizations met. Here starts the historical cycle of Ayla over the ages.
Location and Geography:
Ayla astronomically is located on 35 degrees east longitude and 32-29 degrees north, overlooking the Gulf cape of Aqaba in the north-eastern part. It forms part of the trade routes that reach the heart of the Arabian Peninsula in Egypt through southern Syria (eastern of Jordan and Palestine), known as the road of caravans.
This road gained an exceptional importance commercially and militarily. In the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan (89-117 AD), it was paved with stones according to the standards of transport of that era, linking Ayla with Busra of Levant, and was known then as the new route ( ) where Arabs called it the (Al-Mu’arraqa), while the Ottoman sources called it the Sultanate Royal road on the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1560 AD).
This road starts from Busra of Levant towards Alfadin, Zarqa, Amman, Hasban, Madaba and Theban through the valley of Mujib towards Alrabbah, Karak, Wadi Al-Hasa, Shobak and ending on the Red Sea coast, so Ayla is considered the overland crossroads and sea routes between the three ancient continents of the world, Asia, Europe and Africa, surrounded by a series of high mountains characterized by rows of beautiful purple color. The mountains overlooking Ayla, from the side of Sinai Peninsula have formed (an obstacle) in front of passengers, known as the (obstacle of Ayla), but the name was shortened in the Mamluk period from the (obstacle of Ayla) to Aqaba, the name which is used until today.
The unique shores of Aqaba are famous for their coral reefs that add bewilderment and beauty to its marine frontage.
It seems that the best brief to the outstanding seaport of Ayla is the statement in the Islamic sources as being the end of Hijaz from the Levant side, the end of Egypt from the east, and end of the Levant from the Red Sea. The unique climate of Aqaba, which is warm in winter and attracts visitors from all over the world particularly that it is neighboring Petra and Wadi Rum, thereby forming with them a golden triangle condensing the geniusness of geography, history and the course of civilization in southern Jordan.
Ayla in Ancient Times:
The file of Ayla in the prehistoric times has not yet been opened. The archaeological discoveries which concentrated in the site of (Tel Almaqas) confirmed the existence of evidence of settlement at the site since the copper-stone age (4000-3000 BC.), the Bronze Ages (3200-1200 BC) and iron age (1200-539 Bc).
With the end of the Bronze Age, the civilizations of the people of South Levant, including Ayla, had developed through building impervious sites surrounded by walls, and turned to be cities and cities-states, featured stable agricultural communities, where developed pottery had been produced, exchange of commercial commodities, building houses of stone, brick and clay, and the temples and religious rites have become known.
Our sources about Ayla in these phases are based on the archaeological discoveries and the religious sources, therefore, they are limited and open on the possibilities that are related to the archaeological discovery seasons.
The beginning of Ayla was linked to Midian and the history of the state of Edom. Edomites inhabited the south of Jordan before the twelfth century BC, and took Basirah as their capital.
The Arab tribe of Jutham was distributed along the borders of the State of Edom. Ayla throughout its long history in ancient times since the Edomites, and until the advent of Islam, witnessed successive eras, starting with the Hebrews, Arameans, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC, and his Ptolemies and Seleucids successors then the Romans and the Byzantines . This means that all the historical roles which the southern area of the Levant has witnessed passed through Ayla, but the monuments left by these States were varying, and it looks clear to us that the ancient Ayla has not been studied yet.
In Torah, references were stated about the Edomite - Hebrew and Aramaic - Hebrew conflicts. The trade conflict between these forces resulted in the control of the Hebrews on Ayla in the reign of King David. King Solomon established a fleet in (Etzion Gaber), which is believed to be to day the site of Tel-Khalifa, (Book of Kings, Chapter IX). At the beginning of the eighth century BC, the Arameans were able to drive out the Jews permanently from Ayla during the reign of King Rezin (Kings Book II , Chapter 16) ,as a result , Ayla recovered its trade of position, at the time when many regional forces made successive attempts to take control of Ayla, in order to tighten their grip on the trade the ancient world, beginning with the Assyrians ,when their King Tiglath Pileser was able to overcome the Arameans and kill their King, Rezin, (Kings Book II, Chapter 16), and followed by the Babylons, who extended control over Ayla, until 539 BC. when the Persian King Cyrus managed the sweep of the Levant and drove out the Babylons, and formed the fifth State as part of Persia including the port of Ayla on the Red Sea to control the global trade routes…..
The series of such dramatic historical events represent the international and regional conflicts to control the route of the World Trade, which were dominated by the successive South Arabian States, such as (Main, Saba, Qataban, Himyar) which succeeded over centuries in the monopoly of trade in the Far East and utilize the monsoon season to their interest.
The world powers at that time (Greece and the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, Persians and Romans) failed to know the secret of trade success of South Arabs, until one of the sailors was able to discover this geographical information which changed the history of the world, and caused radical change in the traditional dominance of the international trade line ,while Ayla remained present alternatively with Djerba ( ) and Hura ( ), despite the change of the dominant forces of the (Greek, Btalmp and Seleucids), and the power of the Nabataean Arabs, who represented a distinct business geniusness, in addition to the power of Romans, and finally the power of the Byzantines until the beginning of the Islamic conquests.
Ayla in the Classic Ages (Greek - Romanian - Byzantine): From 333 BC. - 639 AD.
The victory of Alexander the Great in 333 BC. over the King of Persia, Darius is considered the end of reign of the Persian era, and the beginning of impact of the Hellenism civilization.
Alexander's empire was divided among his heirs, whereby Egypt has become the share of Ptolemies and Syria to the Seleucids. We will determine the main events of the history of Ayla between subjection of Ayla to the successors of Alexander until the beginning of Arab Islamic conquest:
First: Ptolemy I was able to annex south Syria to the Ptolemies reign, and Ayla became part of the Kingdom of the Ptolemies, which secured their control over thir land and sea trade route. Ptolemy II tried to ensure the shipping route between Ayla and Aden, which resulted in the prosperity of Ayla, which was known in the era of the Ptolemies as Bernaiqa ( ), a name that refers to one of the women of Ptolemy.
Second: This step caused the weakening of authority of the Nabataeans, who extended their influence along the Red Sea and made the port of Yuki com a maritime center for their trade, to transport goods of the South Arabs coming from the Far East towards Petra land or Gaza on the Mediterranean, so that Nabataeans started to attack and loot the Ptolemies ships, including the ships destined towards Ayla. At beginning of the first century BC, the Ptolemaics power was weakened and the Nabataeans restored their usual trade position.
Third: A new power had erupted by the appearance of the Roman commander Pompey in 64 BC., and occupation of the region to become part of the Roman Empire, (under the name of Syria).
The Nabataeans power haunted Rome, especially it has regained control over the trade of the Red Sea where the port of Ayla was practically linked to the Nabataeans, though it is administratively part of the Romanian Syria.
The failure of the campaign of the Romanian commander Ilios Gallus in 25-24 BC. by the intelligent planning of the Nabataean Minister Silaus (Saleh), had the strongest motivation for the attempts of Rome to downfall the State of the Nabataeans to get rid of their extensive commercial grip.
By the year 107 AD, until the fall of the Nabataeans State by the Romans, and Trajan confirmed the authority of Rome by establishing the famous paved road , which linked Damascus and Busra in the north with Ayla on the Red Sea. By this step, he established the domination of Rome on the trade, and Ayla has become an uncontested Romania port.
Fifth: Rome was able to divert the trade routes off the State of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, which led to the collapse of its business State, whereby the trade in the Red Sea was recovered and Ayla witnessed a clear prosperity with the immigration of Palmyra merchants to it thus benefited from their vast experience.
Dr. Albert Hourani states in his distinguished study of the Arabs and shipping in the Indian Ocean that the merchants of Palmyra have formed a union for them in the Red Sea, in a clear reference to their role in Alya.
Sixth: It seems that the location of Alya near Egypt and the southern Levant, contributed to the spread of Christianity, especially as it was in contact with Abyssinia and its merchants.
Constantine the Great declared, in the first half of the fourth century AD; Christianity as the official religion of the State of Byzantium, which assumed Ayla to be a Bishopric center, centuries prior to the Islamic conquest, between the fourth century and until the seventh century AD. The Church information tell that the Bishop of Ayla attended the famous Council of Nicea in 325 AD and also attended the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, and finally attended the Council of Constantinople in 536 AD.
Seventh: In the history of Ayla, the Strait of Aqaba controlled the process of collecting tolls from passing ships, and this means that any political authority was trying to tighten its grip to Ayla to achieve control with the Excises, which was then a political and economic power of the state.
The site of office of Byzantine Excises was at the entrance to the South Gulf of Ayla, and this means that the vessels coming from the south through the Strait of Bab Almandeb lead duties in Alya, which certainly meant a wealth because it expressed the global trading at the time.
Some attempts to oppose the Byzantine Empire, represented by local forces, succeeded in controlling the Byzantine Board of Excises, such as Omorkizaus, who had forced the Empire to negotiate with him through the Bishop of Ayla, Juthaba, who was of Arab origins according to the sources of the phase.
Eighth: The period prior to the advent of Islam, was scene for a frequently military conflict between the Byzantine Empire and the State of Khosrau Persians, and it seems that Byzantium did not lose its marine domination over Alya , despite the attempts of the Persians to gain access to the south of Jordan.
The Byzantines commercial ships were stationed in Alya, and we note that the State of Ghassanids Arab had its real influence on the territory of southern Jordan, but we are not confident that they controlled the port of Alya, and we must consider that the poetry signal, the poet Hassan ibn Thabit, mentioned in praise of the kings of Ghassanids, which says that their kingdom extended from Alya to Mount Snow (i e, Mount Hermon). Certainly, this does not mean that they took control of Ayla, because the sources of the phase do not refer to this issue clearly.
We have no doubt that Ayla in the early Islamic era is Ayla, the Byzantine, and this means that the archaeological discoveries of Alya , in the early Islamic era are Byzantine, and the American Center for Oriental Researches (ACOR) have conducted a project to detect the Romanian Aqaba, and focused on the Nabateans, Romanian and Byzantine periods of the City of Ayla in the season of 1994-2002, and found that the Romanian Ayla was based in the north-west of the early Islamic city, as deduced by the researcher Tom Parker, in his attempt to monitor the boundaries of the state of Arabs during the Romanian and Byzantine, while the excavations of Don Whitcomb in the south of Aqaba (1986 -1993) revealed that the location of Alya, which dates back to the beginning of the Islamic era, detected the walls of the city, especially the north-west fence with a length of 80 meters, and consisted of two parallel walls of stone, where the distance between the two walls was filled with sand .
The fence was supported with semi-circular towers at equal distances and surrounds the gate of the city of Ayla. It seems that the city walls were extended to the south and north, in reference to the extension of Ayla which was estimated by an area of 145-170 meters, with pivotal streets penetrated the city and divided it into four equal sections.
Ayla had four doors, mediates the walls which is known as gates that open up on the directions. Those gates are Bab al-Sham in the north-eastern, Bab Misr in the north-west, and finally (Bab Albahr Alahmar), the door of the Red Sea is the only gate toward the sea.
From the study of the plans of this early Islamic city, it reflects the change to the Islamic character by the existence of the mosque in the center of the intersection of two major streets in the city center according to the Islamic tradition followed in the building of cities.
We have no doubt that the house of Emirate was close to the mosque in the Islamic Ayla, and it seems that the features of Byzantine architecture continued in the towers, walls and streets, with the features of the early Umayyad period.
We will summarize the history of Ayla which extends from the era of pledge of allegiance, given by the Prophet (PBUH) in 9 AH. / 630 AD., until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, as the following:
First: The information about Ayla vary from one stage to another, therefore, our tackling depends on the historical material available in the sources.
Second: The books of classes (KUTUB ALTABAQAT) that deal with scientists of Ayla , geography, travels books and routes and kingdoms (ALMASALEK WALMAMALEK) are considered good sources to address the history of Ayla, especially the sources which deal with the pilgrimage seasons, Egyptian and Levantine pilgrimage or the commercial caravans road.
Third: The Covenant granted by The Prophet to the governor of Ayla in 9 AH. /630 AD. indicates that Ayla at the time was a remarkable commercial center as the text of the Covenant provided for giving security to the people of Ayla, both on land and sea, in addition, the Covenant refers to a matter of great importance, by stressing on giving security to the people of Ayla and those with them (the people of Syria and the people of Yemen and the people of the sea). This confirms the nature of the port of Ayla, which was considered an attractive and active society in which the people of Levant and Yemen meet.
Fourth: There aren’t no much news about Ayla at the time of Orthodox caliphate which affirms that it kept in its commercial importance, and taking into consideration that the conquest of Egypt made its house of industry a focal center and the people of Egypt together with the people of Yemen the masters of the sea.
Fifth: It seems from the events of conquests in the Levant that the Byzantines feared the arrival of Arabs to Ayla and tried to stop them as stated by Al-Waqidi, an indication of significant importance on the city’s strategy and its military importance, and the banner of war mandated by Abu Bakr Al-Sideeq to Khaled Ben Al Waleed is the banner of the eagle when he directed him to Ayla’s conquest.
Sixth: Although Ayla was close to Egypt and Hijaz, and although all these countries have become part of the Islamic Arab state, Ayla maintained its Levantine nature, in that the fees and weights remained Levantine.
Seventh: In the news obtained from the Umayyad period during the conflict between Al Albait and the Umayyads, when Mu’awiyah Ben Abi Sufyan gave allegiance to his son Yazeed of the succession, and the news on the descent of Mohammad ben Ali ben Abi Talib, known as Ibn Alhanafiah in Ayla and his retirement there, until the murder of Abdullah ibn Al-Zubayr, is a noticeable reference to Ayla’s neutral stand at that time.
Eighth: It seems that Ayla has become a leading center for science and relating of prophetic hadith in both , the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, as many of Alqurashian’s, Ghassanids, Othman ibn Affan molas and relators from Aqeel’s family, who were mentioned in the sources to be attributed to Ayla. This confirms its role in attracting scientists due to its location which links the Hijaz with Syria and Egypt.
Nineth: The widest information coming to us on Ayla in the Islamic eras prior to the entry of Crusaders into the Levant comes from the books of the geographers and travelers whose description of the city, as they passed through it on their way to Mecca and Medina, can be trusted. It is clear that the concordance sources, despite the remoteness of time, on the difficulty of passing Ayla’s obstacle, and the existence of large markets in the city, and that its fees and weights are Levantine.
Almaqdesi, in his famous book "Ahsan Altqaseem Fi Ma'arefat AlAqaleem" gives a unique and very important piece of information that the city of Ayla had been vandalized, and the common folk called the present city (Weila) by the name of (Ayla) rather than Ayla is vandalized in the vicinity of Ayla.
Almaqdesi points to the conflicts between Levantines, the Hijaziis and Egyptians on Ayla, but asserts that it is Levantine, as an inference from the fees and weights.
Tenth: Ayla came again to light when the Franks arrived to the Levant, as the Franks after they succeeded in establishing the Kingdom of the sacred Latin Jerusalem, they tried to expand the boundaries of communication between the Levant and Egypt as well as protect the Marine accesses, they occupied Ayla in 510 A.H/1116 A.D , which was under the authority of the Fatimis who did not face the army of Baldwin I, and who, to fortify his positions, built the castle of Aqaba, and it seems that he rebuilt the Byzantine castle only. The step taken by the Franks enabled them to control the vital trade routes. This was the strongest motive to Saladin to strengthen the ship building industry in Egypt for forcing the danger of the Franks in the Red Sea, as the ships were carried from Egypt to Ayla on camels and was able to control Aqaba overland castle and the marine castle in 566 A.H /1170 AD. The Franks tried to reoccupy Ayla in 578 A.H/1182 AD. but they failed, so they turned to piracy in the Red Sea.
The Ayyubis succeeded in keeping Ayla despite the multiple attempts by the Franks to control it in the hope of controlling the Red Sea trade.
Eleventh: When The Mamluks put an end to Bani Ayyub’s authority, they showed special attention to trade and exerted efforts to keep the overland and marine routes, and for concluding commercial treaties with the Italian cities and the European countries, as well as organizing tolls and customs divans. They were able to monopolize trade in the Red Sea, and thus paid great attention to Ayla, made it subordinate to Cairo Public Prosecution and established a military garrison on the island of Pharaoh. They also built a pier for anchoring the ships in Ayla, which created a significant commercial activity, as indicated by the sources of the stage describing the markets.
We must remember that the period of Mamluks witnessed serious events as represented by the destructive attacks of the Mongols.
In their last day, the geographical discoveries, Arabs exit from Andalusia and the emergence of the Ottoman Turks power and their conflict with the Safavids.
The divergence of trade routes after the geographical discoveries movement had the greatest impact on changing the status of Ayla by its movement to the Ottoman period.
Twelveth: The most prominent landmarks of Aqaba in the Ottoman era is the castle which was renovated by the Mamluks in the days of the last Mamluk Sultan, Qansouh Al-Ghouri (1550 A.D.). The Castle of Aqaba is located 55 km from Ma'an and 50 kilometers from the city.
The Ottoman paid special attention for the castle in building and renovation to maintain the security of the Levantine pilgrimage. Therefore, the castle was renovated in 1587 AD, also in 1598 AD and in 1628 AD. The castle was built of big stones with two gates and an inner courtyard with extensive corridors surrounding the courtyard for accommodating the soldiers and storage of supplies. In every corner of it, there is a circular tower. It is square in shape and the length of each side is 53 architectural cubits .It is also surrounded by two pools.
The Aqaba Castle was considered the passengers station for travelers throughout the Ottoman era (1516-1918 A.D) and a meeting place for merchants coming from Gaza, Karak and Jerusalem. The ammunitions and supplies were stored in the castle for the military garrison, and pilgrims used to deposit their belongings in it, and spend in it three days of rest and supplied with water and food from the markets of Aqaba.
Aqaba in the Era of the Great Arab Revolution:
It seems that the Ottoman State neglected Aqaba in the nineteenth century, and the sources of the stage shows the degree of this neglect. The Turkish traveler Suellemz Nogli, who passed in Aqaba in 1890 AD as an official employee, indicated to the need for the State's interest in this north-eastern coast of the Red Sea. "It is a coastal strip left to the Khedive of Egypt, though the Khedive government did not appoint any employee to it”.
He asked the Turkish government to re-construct Aqaba borough and to resettle the neighboring tribes.
Al-Bashir newspaper of Beirut in 1902 published a description of the Director of Post and Telegraph of the Castle of Aqaba in which it pointed out that Aqaba is located on the pilgrimage route, but the pilgrims did not go through it , which resulted in turning Aqaba into ruin , and the water pools are also extremely damaged, but that the establishment of the Telegraph Center in it has changed the situation , whereby the Director of Telegraph, whose name was Shawkat Effendi, renovated the water pools to serve the pilgrims.
Al Bashir newspaper reporter indicated that the Bedouins have no objection towards the telegraph poles, and said that the people began to take care of cultivation, since the extension of the line, and the number of livestock increased. The reporter of Al-Bashir indicated also to the assignment of watchmen to protect the phone cord.
The interest in Aqaba increased, and considerable quantities of wheat, barley and grains began to arrive from Syria to Hijaz through Aqaba. This change was behind the Ottoman Empire interest in Aqaba, and as result it appointed in 1907, Ahmad Ihsan Bey as Aqaba District Manager, after transferring him from the position of clerk III in its Embassy in Washington to Aqaba.
It seems that the power of Alhoweitat was stronger than the power of the State. The travelers who passed through Aqaba mentioned that Alhoweitat were imposing tax on all the castles on the Levantine pilgrimage route, between Ma'an and Tabuk, including Aqaba. Therefore, so the government tried after the extension of the telegraph line, to link Aqaba with the rest of the State through the Hijaz railway.
In 1905 a Sultanate Decree was issued to extend a branch line from Maan to Aqaba to facilitate communication between the Red Sea and Egypt, on one hand and between the railway line, on the other. But the railway stopped with the eruption of Taba crisis.
By the year 1907, the situation changed in Aqaba, and the reporter of Al Bashir newspaper noticed that they began to import their commodities from Syria, such as grain, wheat and barley.
However, with the Arabs announcement of their greater revolt against the Turks rule, Aqaba returned to the front of event and regained its role with the vanguard of the Great Arab Revolt. The plan of Prince Faisal
with the men of the northern army, when they were in the town of Alwajh, to drive the Turks out of Aqaba to become a launching base towards the east of Jordan and to raid the railway line, cut off supplies and to communicate with the tribes of the north.
On top of priorities was to attract Alhoweitat Sheikhs, headed by Sheikh Odeh Abu Tayeh.
In April of the year 1917, Sheikh Odeh joined prince Faisal.
The sources of the phase described him as (a tribe in a man), who asserted to prince Faisal that the only enemy he knows are the Turks, and he prepared to attack the Turkish garrison in Aqaba.
The campaign of Aqaba was small, led by Sharif Nasir bin Ali accompanied by Odeh Abu Tayeh and Nasib al-Bakri.
The campaign succeeded on the sixth of July 1917 to break into Aqaba and capturing the garrison of 300 soldiers, along with nine officers and a German officer.
The number of Turks who were killed was great and when Jamal Pasha tried to attract Odeh Abu Tayeh to the side of Turks, he refused, saying: (The fight of Turks has become the duty of every Arab, and even every Muslim, because of the exile and usurpation of Arabs).
Aqaba became a front base of the army of Faisal Bin Al Hussein, a center for the supply of his army and a base for cutting the supply off the Turkish army.
Prince Faisal’s army moved from the town of Alwajh to Aqaba on 23 April 1917, in a confident step towards the north. From Aqaba, a new era began in the life of the Arabs who have risen to their dignity after the execution of the free Arabs and handing them, and after Faisal Bin Al Hussein threw his precious headdress to the ground, saying: "Oh Arabs….Death is good to die now..!). Thus began the turning point in the history of the Arabs, and ended with their revolution against a long period of Ottoman rule which lasted more than four centuries.
Aqaba in the Hashemite era occupies a unique position, and was one of the Arabs Kingdom in Hijaz and remained a part of this Kingdom until it was joined with Maan in 1925 to the young Emirate which was established by His Highness Prince Abdullah Bin Al Hussein, and became part of the Emirate of East Jordan, which moved after two decades of its life time to the era of independence and proclamation of the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which made Aqaba a crowned queen on the shore of the Red Sea, Queen of the coral and sun beaches and the window of Jordan to the seas, the city that overlooks the amazing golden triangle (Aqaba, Wadi Rum and Petra), which gave us pride before the eyes of the world.
What more miracle do we want of the nature more than it gave us.....?
Oh Queen of coral, sun and pure beaches!
Oh Ayla! the gorgeous great and brilliant…… may your high standing continue !
Spread to us your bountiful waves in history, open to us your treasures which are compressed with the breaths of our grandfathers and rings of our grandmothers
Give us from your warm depths, a grip of love ... and remain in our memories as the Queen of coral and sunny beaches for ever and ever.