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The city of Barbacena is geographically situated in the Serra da Mantiqueira at 169 kms. distance from the capital of the State and has 124.600 inhabitants.

This city, according to Brazilian standards averages, has an agreeable mountain climate and medium low temperatures. During many years, it was known as the "City of the Lunatics". This was due to the fact that there were seven psychiatric hospitals. The reason for having so many mental institutions was due to the old belief of some doctors that mountain climate was beneficial to people with mental illnesses. Lunatics would supposedly be less withdrawn and this would facilitate treatments.

Another version is the story of the political dispute to become the capital of the state between Belo Horizonte and Barbacena. As Belo Horizonte won, Barbacena received a consolation prize in the form of psychiatric institutions. Three of these are still fully active.

The most important psychiatric hospital, presently being managed by the State of Minas Gerais Hospital Foundation (FHEMIG) was opened in 1903 in a huge rural area (approximately eight million square meters) in the "Fazenda da Caveira" lands owned by Joaquim Silvério dos Reis, the famous traitor of the State Independence Revolutionary Movement. This hospital initially had a psychiatric clinic and later opened a Sanatorium for TB patients. It started as a rich people’s institution. When the Sanatorium was bankrupt, the building turned into a psychiatric hospital with paying and non paying patients (indigents). The well-known "work therapy" used as part of the psychiatric treatment was considered a necessary measure to improve the madman’s spirit. The madman, was considered a useless person that when working would channel his aggressiveness, become useful and eventually be cured. Poor patients, considered indigents, were forced to do monotonous and repetitive labors, without any payment. They would do heavy farming labors in the hospital area, manufacture bricks, dolls, carpets and other products sold outside or used internally.