Natal, city (1991 pop. 606,887), capital of Rio Grande do Norte state, NE Brazil, just above the mouth of the Potengi River. A modern city that has retained its colonial flavor and is beautifully situated among white palm-studded beaches, Natal attracts many tourists. Its port is important in the handling of coastal shipping and in the export of tungsten. There is also some light industry. Natal [Port.,=Nativity] was founded on Christmas Day, 1599. It was occupied by the Dutch from 1633 to 1654 and in 1817 was briefly the seat of a republican government until it was suppressed by imperial authorities. It grew rapidly during World War II, when an airport was built for flights to Africa. Natal has several institutions of higher learning.