Saylac is an historic port on the Gulf of Aden, originally known to Muslim geographers such as al-Yaqubi in his Kitab al-Balden ('Book of the countries') as Zeila or Zayla. It was one of the main ports of access to landlocked Ethiopia in mediaeval times, a significant trading post for the Horn of Africa, and used as an embarkation point for the slave trade to the Arabian peninsula.
Zeila, as it was then known, was the premier port of the Sultanate of Adal, and was its capital until Ahmad Grāñ relocated to Harar. Ivory, skins, incense and slaves were traded from the interior for cloth and metal goods from Arabia. Medieval traders would, however, come from as far as Europe and India.
Saylac lost its significance with the completion of the Compagnie de Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien de Jibuti à Addis Abeba (CFE, Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company) in 1917. The rail link between Addis Ababa and the port of Djibouti, 32 km (20 miles) to the north triggered a major collapse in commerce which has left the port as a haven for fishing boats and tourist dhows.