Capital of the Gilan province of Iran, Rasht is situated on the fertile alluvial plain of the Sefid River, near the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. It has been a site of human settlement since ancient times, but was a relatively minor village until about the fourteenth century C.E., when it first grew into a larger town. Beginning in the seventeenth century, Rasht became something of a pawn in the territorial games between the rising power of imperial Russia and the fading splendor of the ancient Persian empire. The city was occupied by Russian forces several times in various conflicts, most recently at the end of World War 2, when Soviet forces briefly occupied the city before returning it to Iranian control.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Rasht was mostly known for the cultivation of high quality silk. This has been almost entirely supplanted by its growing role in other industries, including the manufacture of glass and the processing of agricultural products such as rice, cotton, and peanuts. The city is now one of Iran's most important industrial centers, and the primary route for trade between Iran and the Soviet successor states bordering on the Caspian Sea, through the nearby port city of Bandar-e-Anzali.
Another major activity in modern-day Rasht is tourism. There is a more temperate climate between the Elburz mountain range and the sea than in the surrounding provinces. Weekend visits by residents of Tehran are especially common.
Rasht is the largest city in any of Iran's Caspian Sea provinces, with a population estimated to be as high as 390,000 in the late 1990s.