Symbolic images are composed of a finite set of symbols that have a semantic meaning. Examples of symbolic images include maps (where the semantic meaning of the symbols is given in the legend), engineering drawings, and floor plans. Two approaches for supporting queries on symbolic-image databases that are based on image content are studied. The classification approach preprocesses all symbolic images and attaches a semantic classification and an associated certainty factor to each object that it finds in the image. The abstraction approach describes each object in the symbolic image by using a vector consisting of the values of some of its features (e.g., shape, genus, etc.). The approaches differ in the way in which responses to queries are computed. In the classification approach, images are retrieved on the basis of whether or not they contain objects that have the same classification as the objects in the query. On the other hand, in the abstraction approach, retrieval is on the basis of similarity of feature vector values of these objects. Methods of integrating these two approaches into a relational multimedia database management system so that symbolic images can be stored and retrieved based on their content are described. Schema definitions and indices that support query specifications involving spatial as well as contextual constraints are presented. Spatial constraints may be based on both locational information (e.g., distance) and relational information (e.g., north of). Different strategies for image retrieval for a number of typical queries using these approaches are described. Estimated costs are derived for these strategies. Results are reported of a comparative study of the two approaches in terms of image insertion time, storage space, retrieval accuracy, and retrieval time.