Pre-Islamic Port of Aynuna

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The pre-Islamic period remains of a trading port at Aynuna are identified by most researchers with the Nabataean port of Leuke Kome, mentioned by Strabo, among others. This emporium or trade facility in northern part of Wadi Aynuna, as well as the adjacent settlement and tentative location of an ancient port are believed to be the ancient Leuke Kome, a Nabatean port which connected ancient Petra with the Red Sea trade network during antiquity.


The archaeological site, dated back to the Nabataean period (circa between the third century BCE and mid-fifth century CE), lies on an ancient Aqaba-Petra trade route. This, relatively good road, was well known during antiquity as the Via Nova Traiana (Trajan's New Road), and the Roman army is known to have make use of it frequently. It is estimated that about 8-9 days were needed for a camel caravan to travel from Aqaba to ancient Petra. The three hundred kilometers long road led through the mountains but provided fairly easy and safe passage.

Discovery and Archaeology

circa 200 BCE - 50 CE

In November 2014 CE, a new collaborative archaeological endeavor between Saudi Arabia and Poland commenced at Aynuna, situated on the northwest coast of Saudi Arabia. Led by Prof. Ali al-Ghabban and directed by Dr. Abdullah al-Zahrani on the Saudi side, the project was executed by Michał Gawlikowski representing the Polish institute. Aynuna is positioned approximately 3 km inland from a small fishing port in Aynuna Bay, now known as Khurayba. Despite its modern name, there are no visible ancient ruins along the coastline, likely due to contemporary settlement activities. However, historical accounts suggest continuous occupation of the area since ancient times, as documented by A. Musil in 1910 CE.

The initial observation suggests that the ruined buildings at Aynuna may have functioned as a storage facility and a defensive stronghold positioned strategically away from the sea. The only available documentation of Aynuna comprises a topographical sketch and brief comments from a survey conducted thirty-five years ago. During this survey, the site was designated as 200–53, and fragments of Nabataean pottery were discovered on the surface.

The site is situated on a stony terrace about 10 meters above Wadi Aynuna, passing through a narrow gap in a limestone ridge called Jabal al-Ṣafra. This location protects it from sudden floods. It comprises a square building, approximately 36 meters on each side, featuring a courtyard and rooms arranged along two opposing walls. Although the walls now appear as rubble of irregular stones, they outline a clear plan resembling a khan, typical of inns or warehouses in the Levant. Additionally, there are remnants of four similar but less well-preserved buildings nearby, some possibly older than the main structure. Another feature is a heap of stones referred to as a "truncated pyramid," actually a ruined square tower. The absence of residential structures suggests it served as a caravan station, likely associated with the nearby harbor.

At a higher elevation on Jabal al-Ṣafra, there is a distinct settlement with clear street patterns and house outlines, indicating a densely built area. Aynuna Bay, nearby, provides a sheltered harbor, conveniently located east of the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, with small islands like Tiran offering additional protection. Unlike this bay, natural harbors are scarce along the western coast of Saudi Arabia, with the nearest one, much smaller, located in Sharm al-Wajh, about 280 kilometers to the south.

External Resources

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