Rio Grande de Norte Attractions
The state of Rio Grande do Norte lies in the extreme north-east of Brazil. In spite of the similarity of name it has nothing to do with Rio Grande do Sul. It is bordered on the north-west by Xeará and on the south by Paraíba. Most of the state's area lies in the foothills of the Brazilian Highlands. The barren interior offers acceptable conditions only for cattle-rearing; in the coastal region cotton, sugar-cane and grain are grown.
Natal, capital of Rio Grande do Norte, lies 537km/334mi south-east of Fortaleza, 185km/115mi north of João Pessoa and 297km/185mi north of Recife. It was founded on Christmas Day (in Portuguese "Natal") in 1599 on the banks of the Rio Potengi, later extending as far as the Atlantic coast.
The town developed after the Portuguese victory over the French and their Indian allies the Potiguares at the Forte dos Reis Magos ("Fort of the Three Kings"; built 1598). From 1633 to 1654 the settlement, then known as the Cidade dos Reis, was under Dutch control. Thirty years later the whole of Rio Grande do Norte was racked by the "Guerra dos Bárbaros", the worst native rising ever experienced in Brazil. The most violent fighting was between 1687 and 1697, but in subsequent years, until 1713, there were frequent skirmishes which decimated the Indian population.
Câmara Cascudo Museum
Museum of Sacred Art
Also in the Cidade Alta is the church of Santo Antìnio (1766), which has a carved wooden altar. It now houses the Museu de Arte Sacra, which displays 18th century religious objects.
A memorable experience is a beach-buggy ride by way of the dunes fringing the beaches to the north of Natal to Cabo São Roque, the "elbow" of Brazil (i.e. the promontory in South America reaching farthest east in the direction of Africa).
The first beach to the north is the Praia do Forte, the original nucleus of Natal. Beyond this is the Praia da Redinha, 20km/12.4mi from the city, where the Festa do Caju is celebrated in the first half of January and the Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes on January 20th (procession of boats).
Praia Genipabu Pitangu
30km/19mi north of Natal is the Praia Genipabu with its gigantic dunes. Beyond the estuary of the Rio Ceará-Mirim is the fishing village of Pitangu, on a lagoon with crystal-clear water. The offshore reefs shelter the beach, providing good conditions for swimming.
Praia Jacumã (Praia Muriú)
The beaches of Jacumã and Muriú, rather more than 50km/30mi from Natal, also have immense dunes and lagoons.
Nossa Senhora da Apresentação (Cathedral)
The church of Nossa Senhora da Apresentação (1694), on Praça André de Albuquerque in the city center, was formerly the Cathedral. The New Cathedral (Catedral Nova) is farther east, on Avenida Deodoro.
Nossa Senhora Câmara Cascudo Memorial
On Praça André de Albuquerque is the Câmara Cascudo Memorial, with a library, a picture gallery, an art gallery and a collection of documents relating to the Rio Grande do Norte historian Câmara Cascudo.
Nossa Senhora do Rosário
On Praça D. Vital is the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário (1714).
Fort of the Three Kings
On the Praia do Forte, 4km/2.5mi north of the city center, is the Forte dos Reis Magos (Fort of the Three Kings), planned by the Spanish Jesuit Gaspar de Santeres and built between January 6th (hence its name) and June 24th 1598. Standing some 750m/820yds above the mouth of the Rio Potengi, it was designed to serve as a base against the French. A settlement grew up about 1.5km/1mi from the fort, but because of the materials used - taipa (clay tempered by plant fibers) and sand - the buildings could not stand out against the assault of the waves.
The fort was given its final form from 1614 onwards, when it was rebuilt by the well-known Portuguese military architect Francisco Frias, who was also responsible for a series of fortifications from Maranhão to Cabo Frio and also for religious buildings such as the Convento de São Bento in Rio de Janeiro.
The Forte dos Reis Magos is generally regarded as Francisco Frias's master work in Brazil. Built on a star-shaped plan, it has a perimeter of 250m/275yds, with five bastions, so that fire could be directed against an enemy attacking the fort from at least two corners at the same time. In the center of the inner courtyard is a tall building which once housed a powder magazine and a chapel.
On the stretch of coast between Natal and the border of Paraíba state are some of the most attractive beaches in the state. 14km/8.7mi south of Natal is the Praia da Ponta Negra. At Nísia Floresta are the beaches of Cotovelo (20km/12.4mi), Pirangi do Norte (24km/15mi), with a huge cashew-tree, and Pirangi do Sul (30km/19mi), with basins of crystal-clear water. The beaches of Búzios, Tabatinga and Timbaú do Sul are respectively 35km/22mi, 40km/25mi and 73km/45mi from Natal.
From the boat to Cotovelo beach there are fine views of this stretch of coast.
Barreira do Inferno, Parnamirim
Farol Mãe Luisa
To the east of Natal are the beaches of Meio and Artistas (3km/2mi), Areia Preta and Pinto (5km/3mi) and Barreira d'Agua (12km/7.5mi).