Chennai is a city with a rich and varied history. The name is believed to have evolved from Chennaipattinam and was a well-known trading centre for textiles and spices for over 2000 years. The 16th century saw the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch traders, succeeded by the British and the French. The British East India Company leased the village of Madraspattnam from the local Nayaks and built a settlement called Fort St George in 1653.
During the 17th and 18th centuries the British and the French forces fought a series of battles to gain control of the settlements and trade in this area. The British proved victorious and forced the French to withdraw to Pondicherry.
Madras gained in importance in the 19th century when it became the chief city of Madras Presidency, the southern region of British colonial rule. The city became the capital of Madras state, which was renamed Tamil Nadu, after India gained independence in 1947. An important commercial and political city in India, Madras is also home to the Tamil film industry, which is closely linked to political life in Tamil Nadu. The city of Madras was recently renamed Chennai.