Some places revisited disappoint. Hagia Sophia, also spelled Aya Sofya, did the opposite. When I visited 13 years ago, I had been expecting the interior decoration to look a lot like Monreale Cathedral near Palermo – mosaics covering everything with glittery gold backgrounds. Hagia Sophia, when it was a church (finished 537), might have been like that. But in 1453, when the Ottomans conquered the city and the church was converted to a mosque, most of the mosaics were painted over. Uncovered since 1938 when Attaturk made it into a museum, some of the mosaics survived, perhaps even protected, by the paint, while others were damaged or destroyed.
The mosaics that remain are lovely. (I particularly am fond of Empress Zoe of the three husbands.) But the real beauty is in the architecture itself, something I did not see well through my disappointment in 1998. And this time, there was no scaffolding getting in the way. Coming: the dome.