Chennai (also known as Madras) is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, it is one of the largest cultural, economic and educational centres of south India. According to the 2011 Indian census, it is the sixth-most populous city and fourth-most populous urban agglomeration in India. The city together with the adjoining regions constitutes the Chennai Metropolitan Area, which is the 36th-largest urban area by population in the world. The traditional and de facto gateway of South India, Chennai is among the most-visited Indian cities by foreign tourists. It was ranked the 43rd-most visited city in the world for the year 2015. The Quality of Living Survey rated Chennai as the safest city in India. Chennai attracts 45 percent of health tourists visiting India, and 30 to 40 percent of domestic health tourists. As such, it is termed "India's health capital". Chennai has the fifth-largest urban economy of India.
Chennai had the third-largest expatriate population in India, at 35,000 in 2009, 82,790 in 2011 and estimated at over 100,000 by 2016. Tourism-guide publisher Lonely Planet named Chennai as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2015. Chennai is ranked as a beta-level city in the Global Cities Index, and was ranked the best city in India by India Today in the 2014 annual Indian city survey. In 2015 Chennai was named the "hottest" city (city worth visiting and worth living in for long term) by the BBC, citing the mixture of both modern and traditional values. National Geographic mentioned Chennai as the only South Asian city to feature in its 2015 "Top 10 food cities" list. Chennai was also named the ninth-best cosmopolitan city in the world by Lonely Planet. In October 2017, Chennai was added to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) list for its rich musical tradition.
The Chennai Metropolitan Area is one of the largest municipal economies of India. Chennai is nicknamed "The Detroit of India", with more than one-third of India's automobile industry being based in the city. Home to the Tamil film industry, Chennai is also known as a major film production centre. Chennai is one of the 100 Indian cities to be developed as a smart city under the Smart Cities Mission.
Stone age implements have been found near Pallavaram in Chennai. According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Pallavaram was a megalithic cultural establishment, and pre-historic communities resided in the settlement.
The region around Chennai has served as an important administrative, military, and economic centre for many centuries. During the 1st century CE, a poet and weaver named Thiruvalluvar lived in the town of Mylapore (a neighbourhood of present Chennai). From the 1st–12th century the region of present Tamil Nadu and parts of South India was ruled by the Cholas.
The Pallavas of Kanchi built the areas of Mahabalipuram and Pallavaram during the reign of Mahendravarman I. They also defeated several kingdoms including the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas who ruled over the area before their arrival. Sculpted caves and paintings have been identified from that period. Ancient coins dating to around 500 BC have also been unearthed from the city and its surrounding areas. A portion of these findings belonged to the Vijayanagara Empire, which ruled the region during the medieval period.
The Portuguese first arrived in 1522 and built a port called São Tomé after the Christian apostle, St. Thomas, who is believed to have preached in the area between 52 and 70 CE. In 1612, the Dutch established themselves near Pulicat, north of Chennai.