It is located in a commanding position on a natural promontory known as "Castle Rock", with cliffs 130 feet (40 m) high to the south and west. In the Middle Ages it was a major royal fortress and occasional royal residence. In decline by the 16th century, it was largely demolished in 1649, with the Duke of Newcastle later building a mansion on the site. This was burnt out by rioters in 1831 and left as a ruined shell by the Dukes; later being adapted to create an art gallery and museum, which the building is still used as today. Little of the original castle survives, but sufficient portions remain to give an impression of the layout of the site.
Whilst Richard the Lionheart was away on the Third Crusade, and a great number of English noblemen were away with him, it was said that Nottingham Castle was left derelict and it was occupied by the Sheriff of Nottingham. In the legends of Robin Hood, Nottingham Castle is the scene of the final showdown between the Sheriff and the hero outlaw in many tales.