2 City (1990 pop. 261,229), independent and in no county, SE Va., on the Elizabeth River and the southern side of Hampton Roads; founded 1682, inc. as a city 1845. It is a port of entry and a major commercial, industrial, shipping, and distribution center. With Portsmouth and Newport News, it forms the Port of Hampton Roads, one of the world's best natural harbors. The city has 50 mi (80 km) of waterfront and an extensive maritime trade, exporting coal, grain, tobacco, seafood, and farm products. Industries include shipbuilding, meat and seafood processing, and the manufacture of lumber, steel, sheet metal, leather products, farm implements, textiles, trucks, and furniture.
Norfolk is also a major military center; with Portsmouth the city forms an extensive naval complex. The headquarters of the 5th Naval Dist., the Atlantic Fleet, the 2d Fleet, and the Supreme Allied Command are there. The operating base is the largest in the United States and includes a naval air station and other facilities. The Norfolk navy yard is in Portsmouth.
Of interest in Norfolk are St. Paul's Church (1738; only building to survive the burning of 1776); Fort Norfolk (1794); the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Memorial, where the general is buried; and many old homes. Norfolk is home to Old Dominion Univ., Norfolk State Univ., Virginia Wesleyan College, and Eastern Virginia Medical School. A national maritime center is there, and the city hosts an international arts festival. Bridge-tunnels link Norfolk with the Delmarva Peninsula and with Hampton, Va.
A rallying point for Tory forces at the start of the American Revolution, Norfolk was attacked (1776) by Americans and in the ensuing battle caught fire and was nearly destroyed. In the Civil War it was first a Confederate naval base; the battle between the Monitor and Merrimack was fought in Hampton Roads. Norfolk fell to Union forces in May, 1862.