When I was five, my dad used to take my sister and me to Mushtaidi Park, an amusement park in the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where we lived.
I remember being so small, I could barely reach the bottom of the giant statues at the entrance. But size didn’t matter at Mushtaidi—everything there seemed magical, imbued with an elixir of light, fun, and sugar. Even now the aroma of hot buttered popcorn and cotton candy transports me to those days of joy and discovery.
The park was an escape when I was small, an enchanted place. As the years passed, though, while Mushtaidi was a dreamy paradise in my memories, in fact it was sliding into ruin.
Not long ago, I went back and, as I stepped past those giant statues, the space felt surreal.
It seemed it was no longer the attractive and magical place I remembered from my childhood. Instead, silence reigned and the rides I used to love were largely still and empty. The only real thing left was my memory.
As a resident of the city, and someone who accumulated happy memories at Tbilisi’s amusement parks, it is evident that the parks have suffered from a lack of investment and scarcity of resources. Their current dilapidated state shapes our perception about the role and appearance of amusement parks in Georgian reality today. As a child, I was unable to see behind the illuminated, colorful, fantasy world. I didn’t think about amusement parks' role in the political, social, or economic situation in the country. I looked at them as amazing places that brought people together, sparking joy and happiness.
Now, however, it seems parks have a deeper role in a community—or perhaps the very service of convincing people to come out and be together has become more important. In many places, amusement parks and public gardens are specially designed to contribute to the sustainability of their communities. In the neighborhoods where such parks are built, they serve as recreation areas for the citizens, generating income and jobs. But in Tbilisi, many parks, including Mushtaidi, seem to wallow in a mire of nostalgia and neglect.
This photo essay is intended to take you back to the magic of your first amusement park—help you remember your rides on colorful boats, old roller coasters, vintage bumper cars, and Ferris wheels. These were once cherished destinations. I hope that amusement parks and attractions, including everyone’s favorite statues, will eventually be restored and cared for in our city.
P.S. Dear Reader, you will soon see that I did not identify the parks in the photos. This is not an oversight—I purposefully left the names out. Each of us has our version of this story. I wanted to keep the fantasy alive, so you could look back on your memories, recalling them from your own childhood. If you do not feel a connection to Tbilisi’s old amusement parks, go and visit one today while you still can. There is still enough magic to enthrall the child in all of us.