The direct initiation of gaseous detonation is investigated experimentally in the cylindrical geometry. By using a long source of energy deposition along a line (i.e. pentaerythritoltetranitrate (PETN) detonating cord), undesirable charge initiation and confinement effects are eliminated. This permitted the different flow fields of direct initiation of detonation to be studied unambiguously. Although the detonation velocity in the detonating cord is finite, it was sufficiently large compared to the acoustic velocity in the surrounding gas to permit the different flow fields to be investigated within the hypersonic analogy framework, by which the detonating cord synchronizes a continuous series of cylindrical initiation events along its length. The hypersonic approximation was validated in experiments conducted in a non-reactive medium (air). In the supercritical regime of initiation in combustible gas, stable oblique detonations were observed, confirming their existence and stability. In the critical regime, the onset of detonation was observed to occur consistently from stochastic detonative centres. These centres appeared during the initial decay of the blast wave to sub-Chapman–Jouguet (CJ) velocities. The photographic evidence revealed the three-dimensional details of the detonation kernels' amplification. The present results in the cylindrical geometry are further used to discuss criteria for direct initiation of detonations. In conjunction with previous experiments in the spherical and planar geometries, a criterion for direct initiation is found to involve a critical decay rate of the reacting blast wave. In light of the experimental evidence of the inherent three-dimensional effects during the initiation phase, the strict one-dimensionality of current theoretical models is discussed.