Aqaba, as it is now called, was known during Islamic times as Ayla, the jewel of the Red Sea. The city holds a vital place in Jordan's history as a holder of its marine and Islamic heritage. 
The city was first occupied in the fourth century BC, and has been home to a variety of different peoples and civilizations. First, the Nabateans settled in the area and are credited with domesticating animals and creating a marine-based society. The subsequent Roman and Byzantine occupations used the area and its ports, making it a trade hub that connected their various territories. 
Beginning in AD 630 the city began to more closely follow the pattern of other Islamic cities. It bares the unmistakable marks of occupation during the Ummayyad, Abbasid, and Fatamid periods, similarly serving as a center for trade. Evidence shows the city had links to their neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, as well as the further away in Indian Ocean and the Far East. 
Within the city, the two most important buildings are the mosque and the house of the Caliph Wealth. The city was a bustling center for commerce, complete with a market and enough wealth to support residential and commercial settlements both inside and outside of the city. 

Site Development :

The first element of site development was an underwater survey on the north coast of Aqaba that revealed important information about the city, recovered some important artifacts, and highlighted potential natural and human threats to the site. Building upon this survey, the Ayla project recruited a GIS expert and a designer to create a comprehensive, detailed map of the site’s layout and geography. A GIS company was then employed to create an interactive version of this map, including historical and scientific information about the site itself and the surrounding area, to be made available online for use by visitors to better navigate and interpret the site.

Following the initial survey and the interactive mapping project, the SCHEP and JREDS teams turned their attention toward design and installation of interpretive panels that allow visitors to better and more easily understand the details and historical significance of the site. With the approval of the Department of Antiquities, new signs were designed and installed and others underwent necessary maintenance. 

SCHEP Support:

Capacity Building 
The Ayla project established a Marine Heritage Unit, a special group of enthusiasts and professionals who will be trained to explore, manage, and promote this unique site. They have been trained in a variety of skills including English for Tourism, open water diving, strategic planning, and environmental awareness. 
JREDS conducted a training workshop on Underwater Heritage, focusing on marine heritage and underwater surveying. This particular workshop targeted different stakeholders from Aqaba including various academic and government institutions, civil society organizations, and the Jordanian Security Department. 
In an effort to combine technological excellence, youth engagement, and tourism potential, SCHEP and JREDS hosted a competition for university students to create a 3-D video exploring Islamic Ayla. The University of Science and Technology won with their submission praising the natural beauty of the area. 
Ayla hosted a variety of training opportunities for project staff, including strategic planning and communication skills, underwater heritage training, English for tourism, proposal writing and finance, among others, in order to elevate the participants’ skills.

Job Creation
Over the course of the project, SCHEP provided some 20 employment opportunities. 13 of these were entry level positions that provided access and educational opportunities on various assignments in the project. Ayla also hired seven experts to consult on history, GIS, and other marine areas. 

Tourism and Economic Development
Aqaba is home to a thriving diving sector and SCHEP was proud to help develop these activities and include them in the project’s presentation of heritage. With SCHEP support, JREDS prepared best practice guidelines for natural and cultural marine heritage, with an emphasis on diving practices. 
The Ayla project has developed proposals for tourism development to the site, such as “Ayla at Night,” which aim to cultivate increased tourist interest in and awareness of Ayla, and which will be implemented with the approval and partnership of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA). Brochures and posters have also been developed to garner more awareness of and traffic to the site. 
Another important tourism project included preparing an Interactive Comprehensive Map based on GIS, of the surrounding beaches, including information about the marine life and the cultural heritage sites. These will assist tourists, locals, and tourism professionals in expanding the types of experiences Aqaba can offer. 
Finally, SCHEP worked with the Site Steward at Ayla, Mustafa Ajlouni, to form Aqabawi, a company that aims to raise awareness and promote the protection of marine heritage while engaging with and employing members of the local community. After attending a number of workshops on issues of community awareness and responsible tourism through SCHEP and our partner The Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS), Mustafa felt it was time to turn these new ideas into reality. His new company will work to diversify the tourism sector in Aqaba, which is currently dominated by luxury beach hotels and dicing experiences, through the addition of tourism experiences that highlight the culture and history of Aqaba and its inhabitants. This initiative will also encourage local investment in and attention to marine cultural heritage, encouraging the protection and maintenance of Ayla as a point of local pride and source of employment and revenue for the local community.

JREDS implemented awareness raising programs in Aqaba that targeted more than 600 students from public and private schools, 100 university students, and 150 members of the local community. They also developed a nationwide heritage competition to create a 3-D model for the site itself under the name “Our Sea, Our Heritage”.
One notable even was a workshop with the SOS Children’s Villages International, a three-day children’s workshop focusing on sustainable marine cultural heritage. Participants learned about the importance of natural marine heritage, specifically the coral reefs that cover 13 kilometers of Aqaba’s coastline. The children also worked on pottery painting and restoration as well as mosaic making.