Behshahr, formerly Ashraf, is a city in Mazandaran, located on the coast of the Caspian Sea, at the foot of the Alborz mountains, about 40 kilometres from Sari, the provincial province. The name Behshahr literally means “fine city”.
In 1832 David Brewster wrote in The Edinburgh Encyclopædia that “Ashraf is celebrated as the favourite residence of Shah Abbas, and enjoys the only good harbour on the southern side of the Caspian”.
Prior to the arrival of Shah Abbas I Ashraf was a village of no distinction. The location took the fancy of Abbas I who made it an imperial residence in 1613 and he commissioned the construction of a palace and gardens. The heyday of the town was from that time until the middle of the 18th century. At the time that Sir Thomas Herbert visited the palace in 1628, there were about 2,000 families living in the town that at that time contained at least 300 public bathhouses. However the town was the scene of both internal disorder and external threats (it was repeatedly sacked by Turkomans), so although it was still a significant town in 1727 when the peace concluded the Ottoman–Persian War (1722–1727), the town was gradually abandoned. Jonas Hanway visited the town in 1744 when it was in a state of decay, and by 1812 when Sir William Ouseley visited there the palace was in ruins. By 1860 Ashraf was no more than a large village of 845 houses with between eight and ten thousand inhabitants.