Islamic City of Ayla, Aqaba 2009

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November 15th 2009
Published: November 15th 2009
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Powerhut GymPowerhut GymPowerhut Gym

The gym we went to in Aqaba. Photo taken from the ruins

Archeological Ruins in the Centre of Aqaba

After going to the gym this morning, I ventured across the road to walk among the ruins of the historical city of Ayla. The place was basically deserted when I entered, except for two local men, but other toursists soon followed me into the site. The ruins were found in an archeological dig sponsored by the Jordanian, the University of Chicago, and the American Centre for Oriental Research in Amman.

Rather than ramble on, I have typed out the text from the signs located around the site. While the introductory sign suggests that the signs are numbered, I only found one numbered sign and another sign had been completely removed from the post. The text below is as written on the signs; the grammatical errors are not mine.

Text from Signs at the Ruins of Ayla:


These ruins are considered as a part of one of the ancient Islamic cities. This city was built by Rashedi Caliph Othman Ben Afen around 650 AD. It was inhabited during the Umayyad period (650-750 AD) and the Abbasid period (750-970 AD) and then during the Fatimaied period (970-1116 AD). The city was discovered in 1986 through the archaeological excavation conducted by Department of Archaeology and the University of Chicago. Its buildings have a special significant in the Islamic history as well as the following periods.

The archaeological excavations indicated the people were living inside and outside the walls of the city. The markets, gates and the commercial stores were revealed. The artifacts found in the site indicated a commercial contact with Avicina as well as ports in the Indian Ocean and the Far East; however, most of that contact was with the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and Iraq and with Syria using the land road.

As other Islamic cities the center of Ayla was the Mosque and the House of the Prince of the city. The Mosque was used to teach religious sciences.


This walking tour of Early Islamic Ayla was supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Aqaba Technical Assistance Support Project, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, and the United States Agency for International Development.

It was designed and constructed by the American Center of Oriental Research, Amman, in cooperation
Tower foundationsTower foundationsTower foundations

One of the 24 U-shaped towers surrounding Ayla
with the Ename Center for Public Archaeology of East-Flanders, Belgium. More information on other archaeological sites in the city is available at the visitors’ center in the Aqaba Museum.



After A.D. 1100, Aqaba’s urban core shifted from Early Islamic Ayla to the present castle site. This structure served as Aqaba’s main administrative building from the Mamluk period until the construction of the modern port of Aqaba in the early 20th century.


You are entering an important site in the history of Aqaba and Jordan.

Excavations conducted here from 1986 to 1993, directed by Donald Whitcomb of the University of Chicago, uncovered the remains of the Islamic city of Ayla which was a flourishing port during the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimad periods (ca. A.D. 650 to 1100 or ca. 30 to 500 A.H.).

In cooperation with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the excavations were sponsored by the University fo Chicago and the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Follow the numbered signs to explore this site
Ayla RuinsAyla RuinsAyla Ruins

Detail in the rockwork
and its evidence of the development of early Islamic civilization.


In early Islamic times, the mosque was more than a place for religious services. It was the scene of public meetings and ceremonies, the place where the Muslim judge held court, and it was the center of education in religious and legal affairs. This last aspect was especially important at Ayla.

From the 8th through the 9th centuries, Ayla was a major center for the study of the traditions of the Prophet, known as the hadith. Thus the shaded area under the columns in the mosque of Ayla provided a place for active study and discussion.


The Congregational Mosque of Ayla was excavated in 1993. The ancient floor was just below present ground level, so the plan of the walls and columns was determined from the remaining foundations. The mosque has a broad courtyard with columns on three sides. The southwestern side has a second row of columns, marking this as the covered part of the mosque. A deep niche, in the center of the southwestern wall, was the mihrab, which indicated the qibla or direction
Ayla RuinsAyla RuinsAyla Ruins

View through the excavated walkway
of prayer. This direction should be towards Mecca, but the orientation at Ayla, like many early mosques, is not precise.


Each of the city gates was flanked by towers. Inside each of the towers there were smaller storerooms and a door leading into the city. Behind the city gate was a second arch of a earlier vestibule. This was latest level was of burnt debris from an earthquake or violence towards the end of the city (ca. 1100 A.D.).


The city wall with its towers looked very strong from the outside. The wall was narrow on the inside for buildings, such as this house. The porch and side rooms, known as the bayt, used both of mud brick and stone. Construction in the latest period reused stones, including several column drums, from earlier buildings.


The walls you see before you are only the lower courses of the original fortifications which stood much taller than their present height.

Ayla’s city walls formed a rectangle measuring 170 meters by 145 meters. The outer fortification wall was 2.6 meters thick and was guarded by 24 U-shaped towers.


In many places conquered by the early Muslim forces, a distinctive urban form called Misr was built. The Misr included the congregational mosque, a governor’s residence, and tribal quarters.

The form of the Misr at Ayla, probably constructed around A.D. 650, during the Caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, is similar to the earliest Muslim citadels at al-Fustat in Egypt and al-Basra and al-Kufa in Iraq.


In A.D. 630, the Prophet Muhammed concluded a treaty with the bishop of the Byzantine town of Ailana (located approximately 500 meters to the NW), ensuring the safety of the town during the Muslim Conquests.

With its peaceful inclusion in the Muslim Caliphate, a new town, called Ayla, was established at this site.


It is no accident that Aqaba has been an important trading city throughout history. Sea routes lead to East Africa and the ports of southern Asia. Land routes have carried trade to Syria, North Africa and the Hijaz.


After A.D. 1100, Aqaba’s urban core shifted from Early Islamic Ayla to the present castle site. This structure served as Aqaba’s main administrative building from the Mamluk period until the construction of the modern port of Aqaba in the early 20th century.

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


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Ayla Mosque

Remnants of the columns
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Gulf of Aqaba

The harbour view from the ruins

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