The town of Geel enjoys international recognition for a centuries-old local tradition of humane treatment for mentally ill patients. While the medical establishment took over supervision of all mental patients in the 19th century, the mentally troubled who did not pose a danger to themselves or others had traditionally been dispersed into the community and cared for in an ad hoc manner. The practice traces back to the 13th century and the legend of St. Dympna, to whom a local shrine is dedicated.
Geel is located 35 kilometers east of Antwerp. The E313 roadway and the Albert Canal pass through its southern corner, and the Kempen Canal skirts its northern edge. It has a population of 34,000.