The Story of the Flying Ox

Initially, I was going to write about the building of the bridges of Recife, but I came across the Flying Ox story and opted for that instead. The bridge mentioned in the story was not only the first large bridge in Recife, but also in the Americas. In 1917, the Manoel Borba government rebuilt it, maintaining the same location.

Upon initial completion in the 1600s, crossing it wasn’t an undertaking one could do freely. Depending on your economic standing, you paid a higher or lesser fee. It cost 2 “stuivers” (basically 20 cents of one florin), unless you were a slave or soldier, then the price was one stuiver. If you were a gentleman, it cost 4 and for ox-driven carts it cost 7 each.


“The Boi Voador (Flying Ox) was a spectacle that marked the history of the city of Maurícia, which was soon to be known as Recife. According to historians, February 28th of 1644 was the date of the inauguration of the first bridge in Recife, known today as the Maurício de Nassau bridge. The Dutch count Maurício de Nassau, who was to leave the city (and wanting to make peace with Portugal), wished to have a large audience present to honor the event, and so he mobilized the population by spreading the news that he’d make an ox fly above the bridge. (One story says the bridge took so long to build that residents said they’d sooner see an ox fly than see the bridge completed).

18-CHC-Boi-Voador(click to enlarge)

The count used the skin of an ox and put it over an inflatable balloon, tying thin ropes to it, attached to pulleys and controlled by sailors. This allowed them to manuever the ox to do acrobatics in the air. The spectacle happened in front of a large audience who watched with mouths open and it was followed by much applause.

Maurício de Nassau kept his promise, really making an ox fly, and was known and admired for all his creativity and craftiness. And the inauguration of the bridge with the flying ox and everything was a success, both for the Dutch people in Pernambuco and for the coffers of the Dutch crown which made around 20,800 florins (since they charged those who came).” – Source (PT)

For a more detailed version, in Portuguese, I used to send people to a Fantástico video called Boa Voador de Nassau, where Pedro Bial interviews historian Eduardo Bueno, but Globo removed the video…


One response to “The Story of the Flying Ox

  1. Pingback: Boa Vista Bridge – Before & After | Eyes On Recife·

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