Capital of Rio Grande do Norte

All Brazilian capitals:
Aracaju (SE), Belém (PA), Belo Horizonte (MG), Boa Vista (RR), Brasília (DF), Campo Grande (MS), Cuiabá (MT), Curitiba (PR), Florianópolis (SC), Fortaleza (CE), Goiânia (GO), João Pessoa (PB), Macapá (AP), Maceió (AL), Manaus (AM), Natal (RN), Palmas (TO), Porto Alegre (RS), Porto Velho (RO), Recife (PE), Rio Branco (AC), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Salvador (BA), São Luís (MA), São Paulo (SP), Teresina (PI), Vitória (ES)

Natal was founded on Christmas Day 1599, hence the name. The city is situated in the far northeast of Brazil, where the distance from Southern America to Europe and Africa is the shortest. Natal is called ‘Cidade do Sol’, the Sunshine City. More than two million tourists visit the city and its surrounding beaches, like Genipabu, Ponta Negra, and Pipa, annually. Its principal monument is the Forte dos Reis Magos, a fortress, which construction was started on January 6, 1598. Natal is one of the host cities during the World Cup Soccer in 2014.



Natal is the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte. The state of Rio Grande do Norte is surrounded by the state of Ceará in the west, the state of Paraíba in the south, and by the Atlantic Ocean in the east and north. Natal counts a little more than 800 thousand inhabitants (IBGE, 2010), about one quarter of the entire state population. The agglomeration Greater Natal counts more than 1.2 million people. The city is located at 30 meters above sea level, the city area measures 170 square km. The Human Development Index is 0.788 (IBGE/PNAD,2000), well below of that of the cities in the southeastern part of Brazil. Besides the nickname ‘Cidade do Sol’, Natal is also called ‘London of the Northeast’.


Natal, Portuguese for Christmas, was founded on December 25, 1599 by Portuguese settlers. Long before the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese, Potiguar indian tribes lived there. Soon after the discovery of the Brazilian mainland in 1500, French smugglers were active in the far east of Brazil. Their contraband consisted of pau-brasil, an in that time expensive type of wood. In 1530, the Portuguese king Dom João III divided the mainland into segments, thereby starting the colonization of Brazil. The part of what is now Rio Grande do Norte was appointed to Fernão Alvares de Andradae, João de Barros, and Aires da Cunha. Their expedition had to deal with the French, who received help from the local Potiguar indians.

Only six decades later, on December 25, 1597, another Portuguese expedition, under the command of Mascarenhas Homem e Jerônimo de Albuquerque, managed to beat the French occupants. Twelve days later, on January 6, 1598, the Portuguese started the construction of Forte dos Reis Magos, the Fortress of the Tree Wise Men. After conclusion of the construction, a small settlement was born: Cidade dos Reis. Soon it was renamed into Cidade do Natal, referring to the date of the arrival of the second Portuguese expedition, and the day, two years later in 1599, that Jerônimo de Albuquerque defined the village.

Fort van Ceulen, now Forte Reis dos Magos

The Dutch dominance of Natal started in 1633. The fortress was rechristened in ‘Fort Ceulen’ and the city of Natal was renamed in ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’: New Amsterdam. The Dutch occupation ended 21 years later, in 1654, and the Portuguese returned.
Natal grew slowly, since sugar cane production, unlike the rest of northeast Brazil, was not possible on the sandy soil of the region. Hence, at the end of the nineteenth century, Natal counted a little more than sixteen thousand inhabitants. From 1922, Natal became more urbanized and industrialized. With the construction of a naval base by the Americans, Natal became of strategic importance during the Second World War. In the recent decades, Natal has evolved into a modern city with a suitable infrastructure, mainly for tourism.

Historical image of Natal (more images)

Economic activity

During the colonial period, the region of Natal was not suitable for sugar cane production. In that time, the economics were mainly based on the raising of cattle and beef production. In the past century, industrial production of salt and petroleum contributed to the local economic activities. Since the seventies of the past century, the discovery of its beaches and surrounding dunes caused a significant boost of economic activity and the implementation of infrastructural projects. Huge national and international investments are heavily concentrated along the coastline. The international airport of Natal (Aeroporto Internacional da Grande Natal/ São Gonçalo do Almarante) is planned to open in 2014, and may become the largest terminal in Southern America, with a planned number of 40 million passengers annually. Natal is also a city of commerce. The city host a number of large shopping malls and many hypermarkets. The largest shopping center, Midway Mall, welcomes almost 22 million customers annually. Agricultural activities such as the fishing industry and fruit production also contribute to the economic activities in Natal.

Catedral Nova

What to see

At the entrance of the city of Natal is the so-called Pórtico dos Reis Magos, the Gate of the Three Wise Men. These three giant statues are accompanied by a giant start that spans the entire highway. The main attraction in Natal is the Fortaleza dos Reis Magos, situated on Praia do Forte. Not far from the fortress, is the bridge that spans over the Potengi River: Ponte Newton Navarro. From this bridge, one may have a splendid view of the sunset. The tourist center is situated between the fortress and the historic center, where tourists may encounter a rich collection of local artesanato, handicraft. The historic center is located at the right margin of the Potengi River, and hosts an interesting collection of historic buildings. The principal sites to visit are amongst others: Palácio Felipe Camarão, where the city council resides; the church Igreja do Galo in baroque style; the trapezium-shaped Catedral Metropolitana or Catedral Nova, from 1989; The Alberto Maranhão Theater; the Câmara Cascudo Memorial and Museum, referring to the famous local writer.

Parque das Dunas

Natal also hosts a large city park: Parque das Dunas. This park counts more than one thousand hectare and consists of forest of the Atlantic type and dunes. Three different tracks may be followed inside the park. The park is flanked by the Barreira D’Água Beach. Next to this beach is the famous beach of Ponte Negra, flanked by the 120 m high Morro do Careca, a hill that is the hallmark of Natal.

Outside the city limits of Natal, other famous beaches may be found. The most famous is Praia de Pipa, about 80 km south of Natal. Another famous beach is Genipabu, just outside of Natal. The latter beach is famous because of the buggy rides and the presence of dromedaries. South of Natal, one may visit the largest cashew tree in the world: the Cajueiro de Pirangi. This tree suffers a rare cancer type and therefore has expanded to a size that is larger than a soccer field, and equal to the size of 70 cashew trees. Talking about trees, at about 30 km south of Natal, one may encounter one of the few baobab trees in Brazil, in Nísia Floresta.

World’s largest cashew tree, larger than a
soccer field.

Two noteworthy events occur in Natal and Rio Grande do Sul. Carnatal, one of the largest off-season carnivals in Brazil, occurs in the first week of December. This carnival is different from the samba carnival of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but more or less resembles to that of the cities of Salvador and Recife. The Carnatal is immediately followed by the Festival do Camarão, a gastronomic event intertwined with art. In July, Festa Junina occur in many cities throughout Rio Grande do Norte, particularly in Mossoró, close to the border with the state of Ceará.


Natal, an introduction
Natal – Promotional video
Rio Grande do Norte – Northern coastal area
Tourism in Natal
Natal (RN)
Rio Grande do Norte
Rio Grande do Norte – The place to be
Largest cashew tree in the world
Natal, World Cup Soccer 2014
Carnatal – the off season carnival of Natal in Brazil
Forte de Natal – Especiais Fortes: TV SENADO
PLACES TO VISIT IN BRAZIL: Natal, Genipabu & Pipa (City, Beaches & Sports)

By Adriano Antoine Robbesom

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