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Visit Pharaoh’s Island: Egypt’s Crusader Fortress Island In The Gulf of Aqaba

Pharaoh’s Island is one of the few places in Egypt that has Crusader ruins (or at least may have Crusader ruins). It is located just off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula in the northern Gulf of Aqaba. It is located close to Sharm El Sheik – Egypt’s most popular beach resort destination.

Pharaoh’s Island is believed to have been a remote Crusader outpost. The ruins are stunning and worth visiting (although the most impressive and best-preserved Crusader castle today is Krak des Chevaliers in Syria).

Ancient Castle on Pharaoh’s Island

Pharaoh’s Island: The Tiny Egyptian Island Gazing Out At Four Countries

Pharaoh’s Island, also called Coral Island, may be the same island with the Biblical Ezion-Geber. The island is tiny, only measuring around 350 meters or over 1,000 feet in length. It is only 170 meters or around 600 feet at its widest point. From Pharaoh’s Island, it is possible to see four countries – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

It is only a few hundred meters off the Egyptian mainland and around 8 miles south of the southern Israeli city of Eilat. The lagoon separating it from the mainland is shallow and is only accessible by boat at high tide.

The tiny island once sat at the junction of sea and land trade routes that once connected Southern Arabia and East Africa to the south and Syria and Egypt to the north.

History Of Pharaoh’s Island – A Remote Crusader Outpost

Ancient Midianite pottery has been found on the island dating from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Pottery shards have also been found on the isle from ancient Egyptian times – likely when the island was a staging post for the copper mines of Timna, now in southern Israel. The copper mines of Timna have been suggested to be associated with the wealth of the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Solomon (aka the fabled King Solomon’s Mines).

Saladin’s castle on Pharaoh’s Island in Taba Red Sea Egypt

It is known that the Crusaders reached the Gulf of Aqaba in 1116, but it is not sure just how much the Crusaders stayed this far south. It is believed that the Crusaders built the castle on the island, but this is disputed. The belief is that the fortress was built during the reign of Baldwin I, the King of Jerusalem, around 1116 AD. If the Crusaders were the ones to build the castle, it would have been to control the trade routes running through the gulf. The island is defendable and located at the narrowest point of the Gulf of Aqaba.

  • Crusader Period: 1116 to 1170 (suggested)
  • Builders Of The Castle: Crusaders & Muslim Rulers

It would also have been used by the Crusaders to collect taxes from the Arab merchants and protect Christian pilgrims traveling from Jerusalem and St. Catherine’s Monastery. St. Catherine’s Monastery is one of the top attractions in the Sinai today, with plenty of tours departing from the famous Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheik.

Saladin may have captured the island from the Crusaders in 1170 and then expanded the fortifications on the island (the castle is also called Saladin’s Castle). Saladin was the man in the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven who crushed the Crusader army and captured Jerusalem from Balian of Ibelin (played by Orlando Bloom). The successive Muslim rulers of the island likely then added to the island’s fortifications over the years.

A bunch of umbrellas along the shoreline of a beach in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt

Some suggest that the castle was built entirely by medieval Muslims and that the Crusaders never had a garrison there.

While in the region, visit the impressive Crusader castle of Kerak, which also featured prominently in the movie Kingdom of Heaven.

What To Know About Visiting Pharaoh’s Island Today

After Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in the 1980s, the ruins on the island were extensively restored. The value of the island and its corals and ruins are recognized by UNESCO.

  • Status: UNESCO Listed

The waters of the Gulf of Aqaba are clear and are popular for snorkeling and scuba diving. Tourists come to dive and explore the pristine corals around the island from the Egyptian resort of Taba (located directly across the border from Israel). Tourists also come to explore the island from Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan.

Notable dive sites around the island include the Picasso Reef – an underwater mountain with huge table corals. Keep an eye out for the famous Pisacco Trigger Fish while diving.

Eilat City, Israel

Main Activities:

  • Exploring The Castle Ruins
  • Diving the Corals Around The Island

Today, visitors can explore Pharaoh’s Island’s castle and see the many small rooms that include sleep quarters for the garrison, bathhouses, huge ovens, towers for archers, and even towers for pigeons (used to relay messages).

Source : The Travel