Natal, the capital and principal commercial center of the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, has a population of 712,317 (2000 est.). Founded on Christmas Day (hence its name) 1598, near a Portuguese fort, Natal was occupied by the Dutch from 1633 until their expulsion in 1654. After Brazil's independence, the city's political importance increased, but even regionally under the empire and during the republic, it was not of major importance. In the twentieth century, however, for various reasons, the city took on larger historical significance.
Capitalizing on political and economic turmoil in the early 1930s, militants of the Brazilian Communist Party fostered unrest in army garrisons at Natal and elsewhere, culminating in revolts in the city as well as in Recife in November 1935. The rebels established a "popular" government in Natal but, isolated and facing the arrival of troops from Paraíba and Alagoas, the government collapsed within a few days.
The city's geographic location on the Atlantic coast made it ideal for an air base, which became known as the "trampoline to victory" in World War II. Natal served as a stop on air ferry routes to Africa, in particular Dakar, to help the Allied campaign in North Africa. The South Atlantic Wing of the United States Air Transport Command based its headquarters near the city, maintaining an airport at Parnamirim that was temporarily the busiest in the world. The city was subject to nightly blackouts from March 1942 to May 1943. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with Brazil's president Getúlio Vargas in the city in January 1943. The wartime experience temporarily increased commercial activity and U.S. cultural influence there. In the early twenty-first century, Brazil maintains a military base near the city, and the rocket base of Barreira do Inferno is twelve miles to the south. Natal is a center of tourism, with the nearby historic Portuguese fort and the local sand dunes among its popular attractions.
Cascudo, Luís da Câmara. História do Rio Grande do Norte. Rio de Janeiro: Ministério de Educação e Cultura, 1955.
McCann, Frank D., Jr. The Brazilian-American Alliance, 1937–1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
Medeiros, Tarcísio. Aspectos geopolíticos e antropológicos da história do Rio Grande do Norte. Natal, Brazil: Imprensa Universitária, 1973.
Andrew J. Kirkendall
na·tal1 / ˈnātl/ • adj. of or relating to the place or time of one's birth: after puberty a Hindu girl does not stay long in her natal home.na·tal2 • adj. Anat. of or relating to the buttocks: the natal cleft.