Norfolk, with an estimated population of 234,403 (2000), is one of Virginia's largest incorporated cities. Located in Hampton Roads, Norfolk has a large natural harbor situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The city is one of the oldest of the Seven Cities of Hampton Roads and considered to be the cultural, historical, urban, and financial center of the area.
Norfolk's history goes back thousands of years. Discovery of village sites in the area suggest the earliest inhabitants lived there before 9000 B.C. Diaries and other written accounts of pre-colonial era explorers give detailed descriptions of the people in the area. One such document gives the area its first name of "Skicoak," located in what is now downtown Norfolk or in the Sewell's Point area.
Surrounded by multiple bodies of water with miles of riverfront and bayfront property, bridges, tunnels and interstate highways, Norfolk has long been a strategic military and transportation center. Norfolk is home to both the Norfolk Naval Base- the world's largest naval base, and corporate headquarters of the Norfolk Southern Railway.
Other regional military installations include the Naval Air Station Oceana, Langley Air Force Base, and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Increases in U.S. Defense Department budgets, most recently in 2001, accounts for a 75% regional growth of the area. Growth and investments from military contractors and other non-governmental military services accounts for 35% of the metropolitan area's Gross Regional Product.
Traditionally Williamsburg and Virginia Beach were considered the centers for tourism. However, with the construction of a cruise ship pier at the foot of Nauticus, the downtown area has become an important part of the city's economy. Many favorable reviews have been received from both tourists and the cruise lines who enjoy the proximity to the city's hotels, restaurants, shopping, and cultural amenities. Galleries and museums in the area offer a wide variety of visual art, history and culture. These include the Chrysler Museum of Art, Nauticus, the Hermitage Foundation Museum, and the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial. Further boosting the service and tourism community are local events celebrating the area's maritime and colonial history, including Harborfest, Bayoo Boogaloo and Canjun Food Festival, Fourth of July celebrations, and the Norfolk Jazz Festival.