The Gulf of Aqaba is famous for its marine fauna. It is the north-eastern arm of the Red Sea, 180 km long and 25 km wide, with a coast shared between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan. The Gulf of Aqaba has the world's northernmost coral reef ecosystem. The average water temperature of 23 degrees Celsius, the absence of storms, and mild sea currents have created an ideal environment for coral growth.
Salinity levels are also favorable for the development of numerous other forms of marine life; in fact, there are 110 species of soft corals and 120 species of hard corals. The cliffs that line the Gulf are home to over 1,000 species of fish, corals, shellfish, and mammals that live in its waters. Nocturnal animals such as crab, shrimp, and lobster go out in search of food in the dark hours of the night. Seasonal species that visit the Gulf of Aqaba include sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and harmless whale sharks.
Its position was always strategic - at the center of the sea and land routes linking Arabia, the Far East, Africa, and Europe, and because of its underground freshwater reserves. It is still a busy port and the fastest developing Jordanian city.
The Nabateans founded the city of Aila at today's Aqaba and transformed it into an important commercial base on the route that connected the Mediterranean coasts to southern Arabia, India, and China. After the Roman annexation in 106 AD, the role of Ada was strengthened as the southern terminus of the new road that started from Bostra.
In the years preceding the Islamic conquest, the Ghassanids, an Arab Christian tribe, ruled Aqaba, and in 630 their bishop - Yuhanna ibn Ruba - negotiated a peace treaty with the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) immediately after the battle of Tabuk. This ensured good relations with the new Islamic rulers - Caliph Omar (one of the prophet's companions) was even a guest of the bishop during a visit in 639 A.D.
Some Christian carvings have been found - but only a few churches, probably because most of their stones were used to build the Islamic city surrounded by walls with its large mosques on a new site near the shore. Some Islamic writers spoke of the prosperity of Aila, both as a port and as a commercial center, and also as a stop on the pilgrimage route to Hajj.
A well-traveled bridge between sea and desert, east and west, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a land of mesmerizing beauty and contrasts, from the Jordan Valley, fertile, and ever-changing, to the remote desert canyons, immense and still. Visitors can explore splendid desert castles, gaze in awe at the haunting wilderness of Wadi Rum, or bathe in the restful waters of the Red Sea.