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Under the ruins of a landmark cinema ravaged by the civil war, archaeologists have unearthed remnants of a castle built in Beirut by 12th century Crusaders.

While Lebanon - especially Beirut - is rich in archaeological finds from the Canaanite, Phoenician and Roman eras, the discovery of a Crusader building by a team of American University of Beirut archaeologists was a first for the Lebanese capital's downtown.The discovery last week was only possible after much of the downtown had been razed to make way for reconstruction of the city center from the devastation of the 1975-90 war.

Hints of the castle's existence had circulated for years. Leila Badr, head of the archaeological team, said a French historian had written about a Crusader castle built near the seafront in Beirut to protect the Lebanese coastline.

Marble pillars with Roman etchings were first found by the team under 30 feet of soil - the first solid proof of the castle's existence, she said.