Name of Monument:

Aqaba Castle (Khan)


Aqaba, Jordan

Date of Monument:

Hegira 920 / AD 1515–hegira 996 / AD 1585

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

The Amir Khayir Bey al-‘Ala’i Amir Khayr Bay al-Ala`i, known as ‘al-Mi`mar’ was responsible for the Mamluk part of the fort.

Period / Dynasty



Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri (also Qansawh al-Ghawri, r. AH 910–20 / AD 1500–1516); Murad bin Selim Khan (Sultan Murad III, r. AH 982–1003 / AD 1574–95).


In plan the standing structure is a square enclosure measuring 58 m x 58 m. The perimeter walls were originally articulated by four polygonal towers; these were converted to rounded towers in around the middle of the 19th century. The khan was visited and documented by the European traveller, Leon de Labordes, in 1828. In Labordes' etching of the castle the polygonal towers still existed.
The original function of the fortified khan was to facilitate and support the Egyptian pilgrimage to the holy destinations of Mecca and Medina. In 1841, as an outcome of the Convention of London, Aqaba came under the control of Egypt in order to protect the route taken by Egyptian pilgrims to the holy site of Mecca. With this the function of the khan shifted to a more military character. This shift was reflected in both the remodelling of the towers and the north and west ranges of the rooms.
The gatehouse projecting from the northern wall is flanked by two unequal circular towers. Each of these towers had an inscribed medallion containing the name of the Ottoman Sultan Murad ibn Salim Khan (Murad III, r. AH 981–1003 / AD 1574–95). The entrance was provided with a machicolation (a projecting window) which was supported by stone beams. The entrance leads to a vestibule with a cross-vaulted roof. A long Arabic inscription runs around the vestibule walls from right to left in praise of the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri (r AH 910–20 / AD 1500–1516) . The inscription reads: 'This blessed and auspicious fort was constructed by the order of our lord the ruling Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf abu al-Nasr Qansuh al-Ghuri … This blessed fort was the work of the Amir Khayr Bey al-Ala'i, the builder … dated in the year ten (twenty). Another inscription in the same vestibule mentions the name of Sultan Murad III.
An inner doorway in the south wall of the vestibule leads to a passageway and, further to the south, into a second domed entrance-chamber and the courtyard. Rows of individual rooms are arranged at two levels along the inside faces of the walls. Near the centre of the south wall a mosque was located.
Archaeological investigations indicated that the standing castle (khan) is in fact the latest of a successive series of khans that were initially built from the 7th / 13th century to protect and support Egyptian pilgrims on their way to and from Mecca.

View Short Description

Aqaba Castle is the latest of a series of khans that were initially built from the AH 7th / AD 13th century to serve Egyptian pilgrims to and from Mecca. The towers flanking the gatehouse bear inscribed medallions mentioning the Ottoman Sultan Murad Ibn Salim Khan (Murad III, r. AH 981–1003 / AD 1574–95) who ordered major modifications. The entrance leads to a vestibule around which a long inscription names the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri (r. 910–20 / 1500–16) as the commissioner and Amir Khayr Bey al-Ala’i as the builder, probably of the bulk of the khan as it stands today.

How Monument was dated:

The standing building was dated by two inscriptions to the reign of the penultimate Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri (r 910–20 / 1500–1516) and the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r. 982–1003 / 1574–95). Archaeological investigations in the western part of the khan offer evidence of at least seven stages of occupational sequence. The first stage was attributed to the Umayyad period represented mainly by water and irrigation installations. The second stage was dated to the 7th / 13th century when the first khan was built on the same line with the later castle. During the third stage, which was attributed to the 8th or 9th / 14th or 15th century, a khan, generally similar in outline, was built. The fourth and the fifth stages are represented by the Late Mamluk and the Early Ottoman khans during the 10th/ 16th century. The partial rebuilding of the towers of the eastern wall and their transfer from the polygonal plan to the rounded plan took place in the second half of the 13th / 19th century, after 1828. The west wall and the northwest tower were destroyed by shelling during World War I. The machicolation at the entrance supports a decorative panel bearing the Hashemite arms to commemorate the capture of the castle by the Hashemite forces on 6 July 1917 (AH 1335).

Selected bibliography:

غوانمة' يوسف' أيلة (العقبة) والبحر الأحمر' عمان'1984.
المومني' سعد' القلاع الإسلامية في الأردن' عمان' 1988' ص. 294–317.
De Meulemeester, J., and Pringle D., Al-'Aqaba Castle, Belgium, 2005.
Musil, A., The Northern Hegaz, New York, 1926, pp.85–7.

Citation of this web page:

Mohammad Najjar "Aqaba Castle (Khan)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018.;ISL;jo;Mon01;29;en

Prepared by: Mohammad NajjarMohammad Najjar

Mohammad Najjar is an archaeologist and has been Director of Excavations and Surveys at the Department of Antiquities of Jordan since 1988. He studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow from where he holds his Ph.D. He was affiliated to the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in 1982 as Curator of Jordan Archaeological Museum. He was the Technical Director of Cultural Resources Management (sites development) at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities between 1994 and 1997. He is the author of numerous publications on the archaeology of Jordan.

Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: JO 29


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