Post-classical history

Aila and Ile de Graye

Fortified oasis (mod. al-‘Aqaba, Jordan) at the head of the Gulf of ‘Aqaba, controlling the desert route between Cairo and Damascus during the time of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The site was virtually deserted when King Baldwin I of Jerusalem reached the Red Sea in winter 1116; however, Aila was still in Muslim hands in 1154, and it was probably not until the 1160s that a Frankish castle was established. Although consistently referred to as Ayla in Arabic sources, this castle lay some 15 kilometers (c. 9V2 mi.) southwest of the earlier Islamic town on an offshore island on the opposite side of the gulf, known since the nineteenth century as the Ile de Graye, or Pharaoh’s Island (in mod. Egypt).

In December 1170 the island castle was taken by Saladin, who refortified it and installed a garrison. In November 1181 the lord of Transjordan, Reynald of Châtillon, raided Aila, and during the winter of 1182-1183 he attempted unsuccessfully to blockade the Muslim garrison with two ships. The castle was again attacked in April 1184. By 1217, however, when the pilgrim Thietmar passed along the shore, the island was occupied by a fishing village, inhabited by Muslims and captive Franks. The castle was finally abandoned by its Mamlûk governor in favor of one in present-day al-‘Aqaba sometime in the 1320s.

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