1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Akaba

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AKABA, Gulf of, the Sinus Aelaniticus of antiquity, the eastern of the two divisions into which the Red Sea bifurcates near its northern extremity. It penetrates into Arabia Petraea in a N.N.E. direction, from 28° to 29° 32’ N., a distance of 100 m., and its breadth varies from 12 to 17 m. The entrance is contracted by Tiran and other islands, so that the passage is rendered somewhat difficult; and its navigation is dangerous on account of the numerous coral reefs, and the sudden squalls which sweep down from the adjacent mountains, many of which rise perpendicularly to a height of 2000 ft. The gulf is a continuation southward of the Jordan-’Araba depression. Raised beaches on the coast show that there has been a considerable elevation of the sea-bed. The only well-sheltered harbour is that of Dahab (the Golden Port) on its western shore, about 33 m. from the entrance and 29 m. E. of Mount Sinai. Near the head of the gulf is Jeziret Faraun (medieval Graye), a rocky islet with the ruins of a castle built by Baldwin I. (c. 1115).

About 2½ m. from the head of the gulf and on its eastern side is the town of Akaba, with a picturesque medieval castle, built for the protection of pilgrims on their way from Egypt to Mecca. In the neighbourhood are extensive groves of date palms, and there is an ample supply of good water. Akaba is of considerable historical interest and of great antiquity, being the Elath or Eloth of the Bible, and one of the ports whence Solomon's fleet sailed to Ophir. By the Romans, who made it a military post, it was called Aelana. It continued to be the seat of great commercial activity under the early Moslem caliphs, who corrupted the name to Haila or Ailat. In the 10th century an Arab geographer described it as the great port of Palestine and the emporium of the Hejaz. In the 12th century the town suffered at the hands of Saladin and thereafter fell into decay. In 1841 the town was recognized by Turkey, together with the Sinai peninsula, as part of Egypt. At that time Egyptian pilgrims frequented Akaba in large numbers. In 1892, on the accession of the khedive Abbas II., Turkey resumed possession of Akaba, the Egyptian pilgrims having deserted the land route to Mecca in favour of a sea passage. In 1906 the construction was begun of a branch line joining Akaba to the Mecca railway and thus giving through communication with Beirut. Early in the same year the Turks occupied Taba, a village at the mouth of a small stream 8 m. by land W. by S. of Akaba, near which is the site, not identified, of the Ezion-Geber of Scripture, another of the ports whence the argosies of the Israelites sailed. Taba being on the Egyptian side of the frontier, Great Britain intervened on behalf of Egypt, and in May 1906 secured the withdrawal of the Turks.