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Natal

History

An early attempt to settle the Natal area by a Portuguese contingent sailing from Recife in 1535 failed thanks to the hostility of the local Potiguar Indians and French brazilwood traders. The Portuguese didn’t return until December 1597, when a fleet arrived at the mouth of the Rio Potengi with orders to build a fort to keep the French and Potiguars at bay. On January 6, 1598, the day of Os Reis Magos (Three Wise Men), the Portuguese began building the fortress, the Forte dos Reis Magos. The following year, on December 25, 1599, a town was founded nearby and christened Natal (Portuguese for Christmas). Apart from a period of Dutch occupation (1633 to 1654), Natal remained under Portuguese control thereafter. It stayed relatively unimportant until WWII, when its strategic location close to Brazil’s northeastern tip prompted Presidents Getúlio Vargas and Franklin D Roosevelt to turn the sleepy city into a supply base for Allied operations in North Africa. Thousands of US military were stationed here and the city became known as the ‘Trampoline to Victory.’ These days, it’s known as the Cidade do Sol (Sun City), for good reason.