Back when Botafogo had ferries

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Botafogo beach around 1840 or 1850, by Iluchar Desmons

In the 18th century, getting to Botafogo was done by sea, via several popular sail & rowboat routes established between Valongo and Botafogo. In 1843, the first company of steam boats was inaugurated for service between Botafogo and Saco do Alferes (Gamboa). A few years prior, a sea wall and a quay were built along the coastline of Botafogo beach, which made for easier docking and protection against rough tide.

In February of 1844, another route from Botafogo to Cajú was established, with a stop at the Saco do Alferes, when the two sailboats – named “Alegria dos Amigos” and “Flor da Inveja” – used until then on this route, were substituted for steamboats.

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In proportion to the ongoing development of Botafogo as well as the popularity of therapeutic “sea baths“, this type of “bonde marítimo” (maritime trolley) became more and more lucrative and thus other companies started ferry routes from the four existing boarding points on the beach: in front of streets São Clemente, Marquês de Olinda, Marquês de Abrantes and next to the Morro da Viúva.

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Map of the Botanical Garden company’s trolley routes, 1870

Meanwhile, maritime transportation decreased considerably after the appearance of the “Botanical Garden” trolleys in late 1868, thus the ferries were only really used on Sundays and holidays. Even the interesting floating boats, used by seabathers that didn’t want to bathe on the beach itself, disappeared by the early 1870s. As the trolley service and the road quality improved over the years, Rio’s ferry service companies began to focus exclusively on service to Niterói and Paquetá.

Having lived in Niterói and taken the ferry across many times, I would have really enjoyed a more maritime Rio de Janeiro with a few strategic stations from downtown to the Zona Sul and Zona Oeste, unless, of course, it’d have progressed like the city’s metro!

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